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Why Do Older People Suffer More Tendon Injuries?

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A UK study has investigated what happens to tendons as we age, revealing the reason why older people tend to suffer more tendon injuries.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), the University of East Anglia, University College London and the University of Liverpool conducted tests using samples of horse tendons, which are very similar to human ones. They repeatedly stretched the samples in order to test their elasticity and ability to recover.

As QMUL reports, previous experiments have suggested that stiffening in ageing tendons contributes to increased injuries in older people. This new research builds on that knowledge, showing that it is specifically the stiffening and decreased resistance to repetitive loading of the tissue which holds tendon fibre bundles in place that is responsible.

Tendon fibre bundles are surrounded by the interfascicular matrix (IFM), which is made up of tissue that enables the fibre bundles to slide past each other and stretch independently.

The study assessed the effect of ageing on the IFM, demonstrating that it is less able to resist repetitive loading as it ages. In horses, the IFM becomes stiffer with increasing age in the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT). The researchers say that the SDFT is comparable to the human Achilles tendon and the results of this study can be directly applied to Achilles injury in people.

Dr Chavaunne Thorpe, from QMUL´s School of Engineering and Materials Science, commented: “We now have a much greater understanding of what happens to tendon structure as people get older and the role that plays in injuries.

“This information could be used to develop measures to reduce the risk of tendon injury or to speed recovery.”