J Biomech. 2021 Dec 22;132:110934. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2021.110934. Online ahead of print.
Tendon injuries are extremely common, resulting in mechanically weaker tendons that could lead to tendon rupture. Dry needling (DN) is widely used to manage pain and function after injury. However, DN is invasive and high inter-practitioner variability has led to mixed success rates. Focused ultrasound (fUS) is a non-invasive medical technology that directs ultrasound energy into a well-defined focal volume. fUS can induce thermal ablation or mechanical fractionation, with bioeffect type controlled through ultrasound parameters. Tendons must withstand high physiological loads, thus treatments maintaining tendon mechanical properties while promoting healing are needed. Our objective was to evaluate mechanical effects of DN and 3 fUS parameter sets, chosen to prioritize mechanical fractionation, on Achilles and supraspinatus tendons. Ex vivo rat Achilles and supraspinatus tendons (50 each) were divided into sham, DN, fUS-1, fUS-2, and fUS-3 (n = 10/group). Following treatment, tendons were mechanically tested. Elastic modulus of supraspinatus tendons treated with DN (126.64 ± 28.1 MPa) was lower than sham (153.02 ± 29.3 MPa; p = 0.0280). Stiffness and percent relaxation of tendons treated with DN (Achilles: 114.40 ± 31.6 N/mm; 49.10 ± 6.1%; supraspinatus: 109.53 ± 30.8 N/mm; 50.17 ± 7.6%) were lower (all p < 0.0334) than sham (Achilles: 141.34 ± 20.9 N/mm; 60.30 ± 7.7%; supraspinatus: 135.14 ± 30.2 N/mm; 60.85 ± 15.4%). Modulus of Achilles and supraspinatus tendons treated with fUS-1 (159.88 ± 25.7 MPa; 150.12 ± 22.0 MPa, respectively) were similar to sham (156.35 ± 23.0 MPa; 153.02 ± 29.3 MPa, respectively). These results suggest that fUS preserves mechanical properties better than DN, with fUS-1 performing better than fUS-2 and fUS-3. fUS should be studied further to fully understand its mechanical and healing effects to help evaluate fUS as an alternative, non-invasive treatment for tendon injuries.