The Achilles tendon is the most commonly ruptured tendon in the human body. Numerous studies have reported incidence of these injuries to be upwards of five times as common in men than women. Therefore, the objective of this study was to investigate the sex- and hormone-specific differences between Achilles tendon and muscle between female, ovariectomized female (ovarian hormone deficient), and male rats. Uninjured tissues were collected from all groups for mechanical, structural, and histological analysis. Our results showed that while cross-sectional area and failure load were increased in male tendons, female tendons exhibited superior tendon material properties and decreased muscle fiber size. Specifically, linear and dynamic moduli were increased while viscoelastic properties (e.g., hysteresis, percent relaxation) were decreased in female tendons, suggesting greater resistance to deformation under load and more efficient energy transfer, respectively. No differences were identified in tendon organization, cell shape, cellularity, or proteoglycan content. Additionally, no differences in muscle fiber type distribution were observed between groups. In conclusion, inferior tendon mechanical properties and increased muscle fiber size may explain the increased susceptibility for Achilles tendon injury observed clinically in men compared to women.
Keywords: Ankle; Fatigue; Gender; Injury; Mechanics; Orthopaedics.