Electron microscopic investigation of the effects of diabetes mellitus on the Achilles tendon

J Foot Ankle Surg. Jul-Aug 1997;36(4):272-8; discussion 330. doi: 10.1016/s1067-2516(97)80072-5.


Fine structural changes in the Achilles tendons of patients with long-term diabetes mellitus were investigated. All patients had clinical and electrophysiological evidence of diabetic neuropathy and had ulceration and/or Charcot neuroarthropathy. Several differences between tendons of diabetic (n = 12) and nondiabetic (n = 5) individuals were observed by electron microscopy. In diabetics, these differences included increased packing density of collagen fibrils, decreases in fibrillar diameter, and abnormal fibril morphology. In one diabetic patient, individual collagen fibrils were tightly apposed so that many areas of tendon appeared as a single mass of closely adhering fibrillae. In addition, foci in which collagen fibrils appeared twisted, curved, overlapping and otherwise highly disorganized were common in specimens from most patients (11 of 12). These morphologic abnormalities in the Achilles tendons of diabetics appear to reflect a poorly known process of structural reorganization that may be the result of nonenzymatic glycation expressed over many years. Such structural changes could contribute to the tightening of the Achilles tendor a phenomenon consistent with clinical observations of extreme shortening of the Achilles tendon-gastrocnemius-soleus complex common in advanced diabetic neuropaths. In patients with diabetic neuropathy, tendon shortening causes severe equinus that may precipitate serious ulceration, stress fractures, and Charcot collapse of the foot. However, in nondiabetics, the fine structure of the Achilles tendon appears normal, consistent with the finding that the ultrastructural changes result from diabetes rather than neuropathy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Achilles Tendon / ultrastructure*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus / pathology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / physiopathology
  • Diabetic Foot / pathology*
  • Equinus Deformity / etiology
  • Equinus Deformity / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Middle Aged