The predominant function of tendons is to position the limb during locomotion. Specific tendons also act as energy stores. Energy-storing (ES) tendons are prone to injury, the incidence of which increases with age. This is likely related to their function; ES tendons are exposed to higher strains and require a greater ability to recoil than positional tendons. The specialized properties of ES tendons are thought to be achieved through structural and compositional differences. However, little is known about structure–function relationships in tendons. This study uses fascicles from the equine superficial digital flexor (SDFT) and common digital extensor (CDET) as examples of ES and positional tendons. We hypothesized that extension and recoil behaviour at the micro-level would differ between tendon types, and would alter with age in the injury-prone SDFT. Supporting this, the results show that extension in the CDET is dominated by fibre sliding. By contrast, greater rotation was observed in the SDFT, suggesting a helical component to fascicles in this tendon. This was accompanied by greater recovery and less hysteresis loss in SDFT samples. In samples from aged SDFTs, the amount of rotation and the ability to recover decreased, while hysteresis loss increased. These findings indicate that fascicles in the ES SDFT may have a helical structure, enabling the more efficient recoil observed. Further, the helix structure appears to alter with ageing; this coincides with a reduction in the ability of SDFT fascicles to recoil. This may affect tendon fatigue resistance and predispose aged tendons to injury.
- Confocal microscopy