How do tendons adapt? Going beyond tissue responses to understand positive adaptation and pathology development: A narrative review Academic Article uri icon


  • Understanding how tendons adapt to load is crucial to understanding how training can improve performance, minimise the risk of injury and aid rehabilitation. Adaptation is the positive response of an organism or tissue to benefit its function. In tendons, numerous tissue responses to load have been identified in vivo. Changes in tendon dimensions, structure on imaging, mechanical properties, and blood flow have been reported in response to mechanical stimuli. However, research has focused on tissue level changes with little understanding of how changes at the tissue level affect the person, their athletic performance or injury risk. Tendons can have a paradoxical response to load, load can induce positive adaptation, however it is also a major factor in the development of tendon pathology and pain. Tendon pathology is a risk factor for developing symptoms, yet the high rate of asymptomatic pathology suggests that the pathological tendon must adapt to be able to tolerate load. Similarly, there is mounting evidence to suggest that tendon remodelling or repair is not necessary for a positive clinical outcome following rehabilitation, suggesting that the tendon must adapt via other mechanisms. This narrative review synthesises evidence of how normal and pathological tendons adapts to load, and how this relates to adaptation of load capacity and function of the individual.

publication date

  • 2019