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PLoS One. 2016 Jun 30;11(6):e0158441. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0158441. eCollection 2016.

Are Sport-Specific Profiles of Tendon Stiffness and Cross-Sectional Area Determined by Structural or Functional Integrity?

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Department of Sport Science and Kinesiology, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria.
Department of Physical Performance, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway.


The present study aimed to determine whether distinct sets of tendon properties are seen in athletes engaged in sports with contrasting requirements for tendon function and structural integrity. Patellar and Achilles tendon morphology and force-deformation relation were measured by combining ultrasonography, electromyography and dynamometry in elite ski jumpers, distance runners, water polo players and sedentary individuals. Tendon cross-sectional area normalized to body mass2/3 was smaller in water polo players than in other athletes (patellar and Achilles tendon; -28 to -24%) or controls (patellar tendon only; -9%). In contrast, the normalized cross-sectional area was larger in runners (patellar tendon only; +26%) and ski jumpers (patellar and Achilles tendon; +21% and +13%, respectively) than in controls. Tendon stiffness normalized to body mass2/3 only differed in ski jumpers, compared to controls (patellar and Achilles tendon; +11% and +27%, respectively) and to water polo players (Achilles tendon only; +23%). Tendon size appears as an adjusting variable to changes in loading volume and/or intensity, possibly to preserve ultimate strength or fatigue resistance. However, uncoupled morphological and mechanical properties indicate that functional requirements may also influence tendon adaptations.

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