Intrasynovial flexor tendon repair: An experimental study comparing low and high levels of in vivo force during rehabilitation in canines

M. I. Boyer, R. H. Gelberman, M. E. Burns, H. Dinopoulos, R. Hofem, M. J. Silva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


Background: Rehabilitation methods that generate increased tendon force and motion have been advocated to improve results following intrasynovial flexor tendon repair. However, the effects of rehabilitation force and motion on tendon-healing may be masked by the high stiffness produced by newer suture methods. Our objective was to determine whether the biomechanical properties of tendons repaired by one of two multistrand suture methods were sensitive to an increased level of applied rehabilitation force. Methods: Two hundred and fourteen flexor digitorum profundus tendons from 107 adult dogs were transected and repaired. Dogs were assigned to one of four groups based on the rehabilitation method (low force [<5 N] or high force [17 N]) and the repair technique (four-strand or eight-strand core suture) and were killed between five and forty-two days after the procedure. Repair-site structural properties were determined by tensile testing, and digital range of motion was assessed with use of a motion-analysis system. Results: Tensile properties did not differ between the low and high-force rehabilitation groups, regardless of the repair technique (p > 0.05). In contrast, tensile properties were strongly affected by the repair technique, with tendons in the eight-strand group having an approximately 35% increase in ultimate force and rigidity compared with those in the four-strand group (p < 0.05). Ultimate force did not change significantly with time during the first twenty-one days (p > 0.05); there was no evidence of softening in either of the repair or rehabilitation groups. Force increased significantly from twenty-one to forty-two days, while rigidity increased throughout the forty-two-day period (p < 0.05). Conclusions: Increasing the level of force applied during postoperative rehabilitation from 5 to 17 N did not accelerate the time-dependent accrual of stiffness or strength. Suture technique was of primary importance in providing a stiff and strong repair throughout the early healing interval. Clinical Relevance: Our findings suggest that there be a reexamination of the concept that increases in force produced by more vigorous mobilization protocols are beneficial to tendon-healing. While more vigorous rehabilitation may help to improve hand function, we found no evidence that it enhances tissue-healing or strength in the context of a modern suture repair.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)891-899
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Bone and Joint Surgery - Series A
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001


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