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Vol. 37 No. 2, March/April 2000

Mechanobiology of tendon adaptation to compressive loading through fibrocartilaginous metaplasia

Tishya A.L. Wren, PhD; Gary S. Beaupré, PhD; Dennis R. Carter, PhD

Rehabilitation Research & Development Center, Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Palo Alto, CA 94304; Biomechanical Engineering Division, Mechanical Engineering Department, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

Abstract — Tendons that wrap around bones often undergo fibrocartilaginous metaplasia. In this paper, we examine the biomechanical causes and consequences of this metaplasia. We propose an adaptation rule in which tissue permeability changes in response to local cyclic hydrostatic pressures associated with physical activity. The proposed rule predicts the development of a low-permeability region corresponding to the fibrocartilaginous region in a representative wrap-around tendon. A poroelastic finite element model is used to examine the time-dependent fluid pressures and compressive stresses and strains in the solid constituents of the tendon's extrafibrillar matrix. The low permeability in the adapted fibrocartilaginous region maintains fluid pressures, protecting the solid constituents of the tendon's extracellular matrix from high compressive stresses and strains that could disrupt the matrix organization. Adaptation through fibrocartilaginous metaplasia therefore allows wrap-around tendons to function effectively over a lifetime without sustaining excessive mechanical damage due to cyclic compressive loading.

Key words: adaptation, damage, fibrocartilage, tendon.

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