Tendons are hierarchical fibre composite materials, designed for the efficient transfer of force from muscles to the skeleton. As such, they exhibit high tensile strength, as well as complex viscoelastic and anisotropic characteristics. Although the viscoelastic behaviour has received considerable attention, the mechanisms by which the tendon structure facilitates this behaviour are less well understood. This study examines viscoelasticity within isolated tendon fascicles, using stress relaxation tests to examine how the matrix acts to dissipate load during the relaxation period. The fascicle behaviour during incremental and direct load relaxation tests was examined, using mechanical testing and confocal microscopy to assess the load and structural responses of the tendon, respectively. Results provide further evidence of the highly viscoelastic nature of tendon, and also demonstrate that relaxation behaviour within isolated tendon fascicles is dominated by fibre sliding mechanisms. These data indicate an important functional role for proteoglycans, in controlling the viscoelastic behaviour and the mechanisms of strain transfer within tendon.



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