Why Tendons Break Down As We Age: A HealthCentral Explainer
Tendons may lose the ability to repair themselves effectively, which may explain why they break down with age, according to new research.
Scientists from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Liverpool analyzed tendon tissue in horses-- the tendon tissue structure in horses is similar to that of humans and breaks down in a similar way following an injury. The researchers examined proteins and protein fragments from both injured and uninjured tendons in horses of all ages.
In the healthy tendons, the researchers found that the older tendons had more fragmented material, which suggests that damage that occurred over time had not been fully repaired.
In the injured tendons, the researchers found that the younger tendons had cells that were active and trying to repair damage, while the older tendons contained an accumulation of various protein fragments, which researchers said suggests that the cells in tendons seem to lose the ability to repair damage over time.
The study’s findings, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, provide evidence that the reduced ability of older tendon cells to repair damage effectively may explain why the risk of tendon injuries increase with age.
The study also suggests that there are specific ways that proteins break down in older tendons. By studying the molecular mechanisms by which tendons age, researchers said they aim to find ways to prevent it from occurring.
A recent study published in the journal BioResearch Open Access described how researchers are working on an improved way of repairing tendons using a technique involving tissue-engineered collagen.
Scientists had previously used tissue-engineered collagen grafts to bridge gaps between torn tendons and bone. One reoccurring problem with this technique, however, has been the inability to provide full support until the collagen has time to integrate into surrounding tissue; in the new study, scientists at University College London and University of Manchester, UK aimed to find a solution to this problem.
The researchers tested what they called an interlocking suture technique, which works by distributing tension away from the cut end of the injured tendon to allow for full weight-bearing as healing progresses.
The findings suggested that the suture technique may, with evidence from further studies, be more effective in treating injured tendons than standard graft insertion methods.
The study holds implications for people susceptible to tendon injuries, including athletes, people whose jobs require a lot of physical activity and older adults.
While researchers are testing more effective treatments for healing tendon injuries, people can take steps to reduce their risk as much as possible.
Tendonitis, or the inflammation of tendon, often occurs as the result of overuse of a certain body part, which can put too much stress on the joints. Inflammation of the tendon, if minor or occurring only occasionally, can repair itself relatively quickly. However, if the damage occurs repeatedly without giving the body enough time to heal, the tendonitis can become chronic.
Common tendon injuries include tendonitis in the shoulder, “tennis elbow,” “runner’s knee,” Achilles tendonitis and tendonitis in the wrist.
There are two main types of tendonitis—chronic and acute tendonitis. Chronic tendonitis feels like dull but persistent soreness that often alleviates after the muscles warm up. However, such alleviation is temporary and can result in irreparable damage if the tissue continues to be reinjured. The pain in acute tendonitis feels sharp and inhibits joint movement; the pain can subside over time but is likely to reoccur if the same movements are repeated.
The good news is that, while tendonitis is a painful injury, it is also preventable. Below are three techniques you should follow to prevent tendon injury:
- Know how to warm up and cool down. Various exercises and stretches are better for pre-workout or post-workout and also depend upon the activity. For example, dynamic stretches are known to be better before running, while static stretches are typically better after running. Become educated about proper procedures and always warm up thoroughly and cool down after each session.
- Avoid jumping into a new sport. If you know you are going to be trying a new sport, such as snowboarding or flag football, train for it before you start. Do some research a few weeks or months in advance and know what muscles you will be using. Then, start doing appropriate exercises to build strength and flexibility in those muscles. In order to reap maximum benefits, try to keep a consistent workout schedule.
- Learn proper technique. Whether you are playing a sport or are using weights at the gym, it is important to learn both proper technique and how to properly use the equipment. Tendonitis can be caused by overuse or overloading muscles too quickly, and working out or playing a sport using improper form can only increase your risk of injury.