Age‐related changes in mechanical properties of the Achilles tendon
The stiffness of a tendon, which influences muscular force transfer to the skeleton and increases during childhood, is dependent on its material properties and dimensions, both of which are influenced by chronic loading. The aims of this study were to: (i) determine the independent contributions of body mass, force production capabilities and tendon dimensions to tendon stiffness during childhood; and (ii) descriptively document age‐related changes in tendon mechanical properties and dimensions. Achilles tendon mechanical and material properties were determined in 52 children (5–12 years) and 19 adults. Tendon stiffness and Young’s modulus (YM) were calculated as the slopes of the force–elongation and stress‐strain curves, respectively. Relationships between stiffness vs. age, mass and force, and between YM vs. age, mass and stress were determined by means of polynomial fits and multiple regression analyses. Mass was found to be the best predictor of stiffness, whilst stress was best related to YM (< 75 and 51% explained variance, respectively). Combined, mass and force accounted for up to 78% of stiffness variation. Up to 61% of YM variability could be explained using a combination of mass, stress and age. These results demonstrate that age‐related increases in tendon stiffness are largely attributable to increased tendon loading from weight‐bearing tasks and increased plantarflexor force production, as well as tendon growth. Moreover, our results suggest that chronic increases in tendon loading during childhood result in microstructural changes which increase the tendon’s YM. Regarding the second aim, peak stress increased from childhood to adulthood due to greater increases in strength than tendon cross‐sectional area. Peak strain remained constant as a result of parallel increases in tendon length and peak elongation. The differences in Achilles tendon properties found between adults and children are likely to influence force production, and ultimately movement characteristics, which should be explicitly examined in future research.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2012-02-01