Skeletal structural adaptations to mechanical usage (SATMU): 4. Mechanical influences on intact fibrous tissues
This paper proposes that the growth in length of living fibrous tissue structures (tendon, ligament, fascia) responds primarily to circulating systemic rather than mechanical factors. However, growth of the thickness of those structures responds primarily to their mechanical tension loads in the special sense that, when the tissue's typical peak mechanical strains exceed a threshold value, its cells begin to add new collagen to increase its thickness, strength, and tension stiffness. When subsequent peak strains reduce to the threshold value, then further additions of collagen stop. That process defines mechanically controlled modeling of fibrous tissues. The collagen in these tissues can also develop mechanical microdamage (MDx) under repeated tension load-deload cycles. Special maintenance mechanisms normally repair that MDx to prevent accumulations that would threaten structural integrity. As a result, spontaneous complete ruptures of these structures can happen when MDx production exceeds its repair. These maintenance mechanisms also prevent gradual stretching under continuous tension loads, a process the author suggests calling creep compensation. When the creep compensation mechanism becomes incompetent, structures can stretch under continuous loads; when it becomes overactive, contractures can occur. The above meld of fact and inference provides the kernel of a general theory for the responses of the architecture and mechanical competence of intact fibrous tissues to mechanical usage.