Achilles tendon structure improves on UTC imaging over a 5-month pre-season in elite Australian football players

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Abstract

Pre-season injuries are common and may be due to a reintroduction of training loads. Tendons are sensitive to changes in load, making them vulnerable to injury in the pre-season. This study investigated changes in Achilles tendon structure on ultrasound tissue characterization (UTC) over the course of a 5-month pre-season in elite male Australian football players. Eighteen elite male Australian football players with no history of Achilles tendinopathy and normal Achilles tendons were recruited. The left Achilles tendon was scanned with UTC to quantify the stability of the echopattern. Participants were scanned at the start and completion of a 5-month pre-season. Fifteen players remained asymptomatic over the course of the pre-season. All four echo-types were significantly different at the end of the pre-season, with the overall echopattern suggesting an improvement in Achilles tendon structure. Three of the 18 participants developed Achilles tendon pain that coincided with a change in the UTC echopattern. This study demonstrates that the UTC echopattern of the Achilles tendon improves over a 5-month pre-season training period, representing increased fibrillar alignment. However, further investigation is needed to elucidate with this alteration in the UTC echopattern results in improved tendon resilience and load capacity.

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