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Results of studies in human beings and other species have indicated that aging significantly influences the strength, modulus of elasticity, and energy storage ability of tendon. We wanted to determine the effects of aging on the material and ultrasonographic properties of equine superficial digital flexor (sdf) tendon. Ultrasonographic measurements of left forelimb sdf tendon cross-sectional area and mean echogenicity were made in 23 standing horses ranging in age from 2 to 23 years. All horses had not been in work for a minimum of 6 months prior to the study. After euthanasia, left forelimb bone-muscle-tendon-bone specimens were mounted in a materials testing system. The sdf tendon was cyclically loaded sinusoidally 100 times at 0.5 Hz from 1.5 to 5.0% strain, then was submitted to 10-minute creep-and-stress relaxation tests. Modulus of elasticity, load at 3% strain, and creep-and-stress relaxation were determined for each specimen. A significant positive correlation was found between elastic modulus and age. Correlation was not found between age and sdf tendon cross-sectional area or mean echogenicity. When 2-year-old horses were compared with older horses, the latter had tendons with a significantly (P = 0.007) greater modulus of elasticity. The authors conclude that increasing age through maturity is associated with a corresponding increase in equine sdf tendon elastic modulus.

Free access
in American Journal of Veterinary Research



To assess tendon morphology and non-reducible crosslink concentration, and associations of these findings with horse age and previously reported mechanical and ultrasonographic findings.

Sample Population

Superficial digital flexor tendon samples were obtained from 23 horses aged 2 to 23 years. The tendons had undergone ultrasonography and were submitted to biomechanical testing in the physiologic range prior to sample acquisition.


Samples were sectioned in a transverse plane; then dorsal, palmar, central, lateral, and medial regions were evaluated for fascicle cross-sectional area (CSA), septal width, and vessel density (the product of vessel numbers and vessel CSA per field). Contiguous samples were analyzed for collagen crosslinking.


Central fascicles were significantly larger than fascicles in other tendon regions. Fascicle CSA decreased significantly with increasing age. Because total tendon CSA is unrelated to increasing age, fascicle numbers appeared to increase with increasing age. Regional or age effects on septal width were not found. There was no age or regional effect on vessel numbers, density, or fractional area.

Fascicle CSA was positively correlated with total tendon CSA; fascicle CSA was negatively correlated with elastic modulus. Hydroxypiridinium concentration tended to increase with increasing horse age; this effect was associated with a positive correlation between hydroxypiridinium values and elastic modulus.


Equine superficial digital flexor tendon undergoes an increase in structural organization and an increase in nonreducible crosslinks with maturation and aging. These changes are associated with an increase in elastic modulus. (Am J Vet Res 1997; 58:425–430)

Free access
in American Journal of Veterinary Research