The relationship between the pattern of surface strain and the site of failure in maturing rabbit ligaments was studied in vitro. Bone-medial collateral ligament (MCL)-bone complexes of 24 female New Zealand White rabbits at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months of age (n = 6 rabbits, 12 MCLs per group) were tested in tension to failure. A video dimension analysis (VDA) system was used to map the surface strain at failure across the width and along the length of the medial side of each MCL during testing. Results showed that the highest strains were consistently located at the femoral insertion decreasing towards the midsubstance, with the highest strain occurring in the anterior portion of the MCL immediately adjacent to the femoral insertion. Strains of the complex at failure increased with rabbit maturation. The strain distribution however, did not change dramatically, even though the locations of MCL failure changed from exclusively tibial avulsion in the three month old rabbits to predominantly midsubstance failures in the 12 month old rabbits. In the six month old rabbits, there was a particular dissociation with all MCLs failing near the tibial insertion while femoral strains were apparently the highest. These results suggest two possibilities beyond that of some unknown artifacts of optical strain measurement. First, since failure sites rarely correlated with areas of maximum surface strain in this study, it seems possible that higher strains could exist deeper in the tissue, particularly at the bone-ligament interface of the tibial insertion in immature animals and somewhere within the midsubstance of the MCL in the adult. Secondly, it is possible that the ligament material may be heterogeneous.

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