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The purpose of this study was to evaluate localized patterns of patellar tendon deformation during passive knee flexion. Ultrasound radiofrequency data were collected from the patellar tendons of 20 healthy young adults during knee flexion over a range of motion of 50°–90° of flexion. A speckle tracking approach was used to compute proximal and distal tendon displacements and elongations. Nonuniform tissue displacements were visible in the proximal tendon (P < .001), with the deep tendon undergoing more distal displacement than the superficial tendon. In the distal tendon, more uniform tendon motion was observed. Spatial variations in percent elongation were also observed, but these varied along the length of the tendon (P < .002), with the proximal tendon remaining fairly isometric while the distal tendon underwent slight elongation. These results suggest that even during passive flexion the tendon undergoes complex patterns of deformation. Proximal tendon nonuniformity may arise from its complex anatomy where the deep tendon inserts onto the patella and the superficial tendon extends to the quadriceps tendon. Such heterogeneity is not captured in whole tendon average assessments, emphasizing the relevance of considering localized tendon mechanics, which may be key to understanding tendon behavior and precursors to injury and disease.
Slane, Bogaerts, and Scheys are with the Institute for Orthopaedic Research and Training, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. Bogaerts and Scheys are also with the University Hospitals Leuven, Campus Pellenberg, Pellenberg, Belgium. Thelen is with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI.