Exercise-related alterations in crimp morphology in the central regions of superficial digital flexor tendons from young Thoroughbreds: a controlled study

Authors

  • J. C. PATTERSON-KANE,

    1. Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
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  • A. M. WILSON,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Physics, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
      Orthopaedic Science, Royal Veterinary College and Institute of Orthopaedics, UCL, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hatfield, Herts AL9 7TA, UK.
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  • E. C. FIRTH,

    1. Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
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  • D. A. D. PARRY,

    1. Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
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  • A. E. GOODSHIP

    Corresponding author
    1. Orthopaedic Science, Royal Veterinary College and Institute of Orthopaedics, UCL, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hatfield, Herts AL9 7TA, UK.
      Orthopaedic Science, Royal Veterinary College and Institute of Orthopaedics, UCL, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hatfield, Herts AL9 7TA, UK.
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Orthopaedic Science, Royal Veterinary College and Institute of Orthopaedics, UCL, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hatfield, Herts AL9 7TA, UK.

Summary

Injury to the core of the mid-metacarpal region of the superficial digital flexor tendon in Thoroughbred racehorses is a very frequent but poorly understood condition. It has been suggested that subclinical changes induced by galloping exercise weaken the collagen in this region of the tendon, predisposing it to rupture. The longitudinally arranged collagen fibrils in tendon follow a planar waveform, termed the crimp. Fibril bundles with a smaller crimp angle fail at a lower level of strain than those with a larger crimp angle. This study tested the hypothesis that a specific 18 month exercise programme would result in significant reduction of collagen fibril crimp angle and period length in the core region of the superficial digital flexor tendon of young Thoroughbreds (21 ± 1 months), compared to the normal change in these parameters with age. Central region crimp angle and length were significantly lower in exercised horses than in control horses (P<0.05). The crimp angle was significantly lower in this central region than in the peripheral region of the tendon in 4 of the 5 exercised horses, as was the crimp length in 3 of the 4 horses. The crimp angle in the peripheral region was significantly greater in exercised horses than in the controls (P<0.05), which may indicate functional adaptation due to differing mechanical environment between the 2 tendon regions. The results of this study supported previous evidence that galloping exercise modifies normal age-related changes in crimp morphology in the core of the superficial digital flexor tendon. Such changes are indicative of microtrauma and would be detrimental to tendon strength.

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