Objectives: Although expected, tendon adaptations in adolescent elite athletes have been underreported. Morphologically, adaptations may occur by an increase in collagen fiber density and/or organization. These characteristics can be captured using spatial frequency parameters extracted from ultrasound images. This study aims to compare Achilles tendon (AT) morphology among sports-specific cohorts of elite adolescent athletes and to compare these findings to recreationally active controls by use of spatial frequency analysis. Design: Cross-sectional observational study. Method: In total, 334 healthy adolescent athletes from four sport categories (ball, combat, endurance, explosive strength) and 35 healthy controls were included. Longitudinal ultrasound scans were performed at the AT insertion and midportion. Intra-tendinous-morphology was quantified by performing spatial frequency analysis assessing eight parameters at standardized ROIs. Increased values in five parameters suggest a higher structural organization, and in two parameters higher fiber density. One parameter represents a quotient combining both organization and fiber density. Results: Among athletes, only ball sport athletes exhibited an increase in one summative parameter at pre-insertion site compared to athletes from other sport categories. When compared to athletes, controls had significantly higher values of four parameters at pre-insertion and three parameters at midportion site reflecting differences in both, fiber organization and density. Conclusions: Intra-tendinous-morphology was similar in all groups of adolescent athletes. Higher values found in non-athletes might suggest higher AT fiber density and organization. It is yet unclear whether the lesser structural organization in young athletes represents initial AT pathology, or a physiological adaptive response at the fiber cross-linking level.
- Athletic loading
- Tendon structure
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
- Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation