The adaptability of tendon to loading differs in men and women


Michael Kjaer, MD, DMedSci
Institute of Sports Medicine Copenhagen
Bispebjerg Hospital
Bispebjerg Bakke 23
2400 Copenhagen NV


The reason why women sustain more soft tissue injury than men during physical activity is unknown. Connective tissue properties and extracellular matrix adaptability in human tendon were investigated in models that addressed biochemical, physiological and biomechanical aspects of tendon connective tissue in response to mechanical loading. Habitual training resulted in a larger patellar tendon in men but not in women. Following an acute bout of exercise, men had an elevated tendon collagen synthesis rate and this effect was less pronounced or absent in women. Moreover, levels of circulating oestrogen affected the acute exercise-related increase in collagen synthesis. Finally, the mechanical strength of isolated tendon collagen fascicles in men surpassed that of women. Thus, compared to men, women have (i) an attenuated tendon hypertrophy response to habitual training; (ii) a lower tendon collagen synthesis rate following acute exercise; (iii) a rate of tendon collagen synthesis which is further attenuated with elevated estradiol levels; and (iv) a lower mechanical strength of their tendons. These data indicate that tendons in women have a lower rate of new connective tissue formation, respond less to mechanical loading, and have a lower mechanical strength, which may leave the tissue more susceptible to injury.