Introduction: Midportion Achilles tendinopathy (MPT) is a common problem in running athletes. Nevertheless, its etiology is not fully understood, and no valid prognostic criterion to predict the development of MPT could be identified to date. The purpose of the present study, therefore, was to evaluate whether power Doppler ultrasonography (PDU) is a suitable method to identify a predisposition to MPT in yet asymptomatic runners.
Methods: At 23 major running events, 634 asymptomatic long-distance runners were tested for Achilles tendon thickness, vascularization, and structural abnormalities using a high-resolution PDU device (Toshiba Aplio SSA-770A/80, 12 MHz). In addition, their medical history and anthropometric data were documented. All subjects were contacted 6 and 12 months later and asked about any new symptoms. The collected anamnestic, anthropometric, and ultrasonographic data were subjected to regression analysis to determine their predictive value concerning the manifestation of midportion Achilles tendon complaints (P < 0.05).
Results: The highest odds ratio (OR) for manifestation of MPT within 1 yr was found for intratendinous blood flow ("neovascularization," OR = 6.9, P < 0.001). An increased risk was also identified for subjects with a positive history of Achilles tendon complaints (OR = 3.8, P < 0.001). A third relevant parameter, just above the level of significance, was a spindle-shaped thickening of the tendon on PDU (Wald χ2 = 3.42).
Conclusions: PDU detection of intratendinous microvessels in the Achilles tendons of healthy runners seems to be a prognostically relevant factor concerning the manifestation of symptomatic MPT. This finding lays the foundation for an early identification of a predisposition to MPT as well as prophylactic intervention in as yet asymptomatic runners.