Purpose: Eccentric exercise has become the treatment of choice for Achilles tendinopathy. However, little is known about the acute response of tendons to eccentric exercise or the mechanisms underlying its clinical benefit. This research evaluated the sonographic characteristics and acute anteroposterior (AP) strain response of control (healthy), asymptomatic, and symptomatic Achilles tendons to eccentric exercise.
Methods: Eleven male adults with unilateral midportion Achilles tendinopathy and nine control male adults without tendinopathy participated in the research. Sagittal sonograms of the Achilles tendon were acquired immediately before and after completion of a common eccentric rehabilitation exercise protocol and again 24 h later. Tendon thickness, echogenicity, and AP strain were determined 40 mm proximal to the calcaneal insertion.
Results: Compared with the control tendon, both the asymptomatic and symptomatic tendons were thicker (P < 0.05) and hypoechoic (P < 0.05) at baseline. All tendons decreased in thickness immediately after eccentric exercise (P < 0.05). The symptomatic tendon was characterized by a significantly lower AP strain response to eccentric exercise compared with both the asymptomatic and control tendons (P < 0.05). AP strains did not differ in the control and asymptomatic tendons. For all tendons, preexercise thickness was restored 24 h after exercise completion.
Conclusions: These observations support the concept that Achilles tendinopathy is a bilateral or systemic process and structural changes associated with symptomatic tendinopathy alter fluid movement within the tendon matrix. Altered fluid movement may disrupt remodeling and homeostatic processes and represents a plausible mechanism underlying the progression of tendinopathy.