Investigations into the response of the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) of the Thoroughbred horse to mechanical stimuli have been limited to in vitro cell culture studies focused primarily on gene expression of critical matrix proteins. It is uncertain how well in vitro outcomes translate to the tendon of the horse during exercise. The current study examined changes in tendon structure in response to maximal exercise using ultrasound tissue characterisation (UTC) to scan the SDFT prior to and after competitive racing. UTC uses contiguous transverse ultrasound images to assess the dynamics of the echopattern, which has a close relationship with changes in the 3-D ultra-structure of the tendon.
Using UTC, it was possible to detect subtle changes in the dynamics of the echopattern, with a reduction in pixels that represent aligned and integer collagen tendon bundles on days 1 and 2 post-race when compared to pre-race (P < 0.05). The echopattern of these tendons returned to baseline on day 3. This change in echopattern was not seen in control horses. It was concluded that short-term changes in the SDFT following maximal exercise could be detected using UTC.