Flexor digitorum profundus tendon to bone tunnel repair: A vascularization and histologic study in canines

Thomas T. Dovan, Timothy Ritty, Konstantinos Ditsios, Matthew J. Silva, Nozomu Kusano, Richard H. Gelberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Purpose: Recent in vivo canine studies have shown incomplete restoration of the flexor digitorum profundus (FDP) insertion site after transection and repair to the cortical surface of the distal phalanx. Previous biomechanical analyses of tendon to bone surface repair have suggested that repair site gap formation of greater than 3 mm occurs frequently under physiologic loads. A recent ex vivo investigation into a novel repair of the FDP tendon into a bone tunnel in the distal phalanx showed improved tensile properties with a decrease in repair site gap formation. Time-zero data, however, do not always accurately reflect in vivo responses. The repair response of the FDP tendon when placed in an osseous compartment is not known. The purpose of this study was to analyze the histologic and vascular anatomic properties of the FDP insertion site after transection and repair in a bone tunnel within the distal phalanx. Methods: Twenty-six FDP tendon to bone repairs were performed in 13 adult mongrel dogs after insertion site transection. The tendons were repaired in a bone tunnel in the distal phalanx. Vascular analysis of the tendon and repair site was performed by using a modified Spalteholtz technique and routine hematoxylin-eosin staining was used to assess histologic properties of the repair. Results: In normal specimens the vascular analysis showed that there was a distal network of vessels extending 1- to 2-cm proximal to the FDP insertion site. At 10 days after repair the distal tendon segment tendon remained avascular. By 21 days after repair there was proximal migration of an unorganized reticular network of tendon surface vessels with sparse intratendinous communications. At 6 weeks after repair the structure of the distal tendon vascular network resembled that of normals. The vascular response of the tendon within the bone tunnel followed a similar time frame. Histologic analysis showed an inflammatory reaction in the bone tunnel leading to a progressive degradation of that portion of the FDP tendon that resided in the tunnel. Tendon necrosis was not seen. Conclusions: The FDP tendon, after insertion site transection and repair in a bone tunnel, undergoes a process of neovascularization and revascularization over a period of 6 weeks. There is a progressive loss of tendon parenchyma within the bone tunnel and the suture tracks appeared to serve as conduits for the ingrowth of inflammatory tissue. Restoration of the normal 4-zone tendon-bone interface was not seen. Although ex vivo biomechanical assessment of tendon repair in a bone tunnel appears promising, the repair response in vivo may not be favorable for tendon to bone healing. The progressive tendon degeneration that was observed here may have detrimental effects on repair site tensile properties, increasing the potential for early failure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-257
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005


  • Bone tunnel
  • Flexor digitorum profundus
  • Tendon vascularity
  • Tendon-bone repair


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