The aim of this study was to compare tendon strain and stiffness between athletes with patellar tendinopathy and healthy controls, and explore whether the intensity of pain and dysfunction were related to the mechanical properties of the tendon.
Thirty-four male athletes with patellar tendinopathy and 13 healthy controls matched by age and activity levels were recruited. The in vivo mechanical properties of the patellar tendon were examined by ultrasonography and dynamometry. In subjects with patellar tendinopathy, the intensities of self-perceived pain (maximal pain in the past 7 days and pain during a single-legged declined-squat test) using the visual analogue scale and the assessment of functional disability using the Victorian Institute of Sport Assessment-patellar questionnaire, were collected.
In subjects with patellar tendinopathy, tendon strain was significantly reduced by 22% (8.9 ± 3.7 vs. 14.3 ± 4.7%, P = 0.005) when compared with healthy controls. There was no significant group difference in tendon stiffness (P = 0.27). Significant negative correlations between tendon strain and the maximal self-perceived pain over 7 days (r = -0.37, P = 0.03), and pain during a single-legged declined-squat test (r = -0.37, P = 0.03) were detected. A trend of significant positive correlation was found between tendon stiffness and pain during a single-legged declined-squat test (r = 0.30, P = 0.09).
The findings show that tendon strain is reduced in athletes with patellar tendinopathy, and a lower tendon strain is associated with a greater magnitude of pain perceived.