The force and excursion within the canine digital flexor tendons were measured during passive joint manipulations that simulate those used during rehabilitation after flexor tendon repair and during active muscle contraction, simulating the active rehabilitation protocol. Tendon force was measured using a small buckle placed upon the tendon while excursion was measured using a suture marker and video analysis method. Passive finger motion imposed with the wrist flexed resulted in dramatically lower tendon force (approximately 5 N) compared to passive motion imposed with the wrist extended (approximately 17 N). Lower excursions were seen at the level of the proximal interphalangeal joint with the wrist flexed (approximately 1.5 mm) while high excursion was observed when the wrist was extended or when synergistic finger and wrist motion were imposed (approximately 3.5 mm). Bivariate discriminant analysis of both force and excursion data revealed a natural clustering of the data into three general mechanical paradigms. With the wrist extended and with either one finger or four fingers manipulated, tendons experienced high loads of approximately 1500 g and high excursions of approximately 3.5 mm. In contrast, the same manipulations performed with the wrist flexed resulted in low tendon forces (4-8 N) and low tendon excursions of approximately 1.5 mm. Synergistic wrist and finger manipulation provided the third paradigm where tendon force was relatively low (approximately 4 N) but excursion was as high as those seen in the groups which were manipulated with the wrist extended. Active muscle contraction produced a modest tendon excursion (approximately 1 mm) and high or low tendon force with the wrist extended or flexed, respectively. These data provide the basis for experimentally testable hypotheses with regard to the factors that most significantly affect functional recovery after digital flexor tendon injury and define the normal mechanical operating characteristics of these tendons.
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