Tendons function to transmit loads from muscle to move and stabilize joints and absorb impacts. Functionality of lacerated tendons is diminished, however clinical practice often considers surgical repair only after 50% or more of the tendon is lacerated, the “50% rule.” Few studies provide mechanical insight into the 50% rule. In this study cyclic and static stress relaxation tests were performed on porcine flexor tendons before and after a 0.5, 1.0, 2.0, or 2.75 mm deep transverse, midsubstance laceration. Elastic and viscoelastic properties, such as maximum stress, change in stress throughout each test, and stiffness, were measured and compared pre- and post-laceration. Nominal stress and stiffness parameters decreased, albeit disproportionately in magnitude, with increasing percent loss of cross-sectional area. Conversely, mean stress at the residual area (determined using remaining intact area at the laceration cross section) exhibited a marked increase in stress concentration beginning at 47.2% laceration using both specified load and constant strain analyses. The marked increase in stress concentration beginning near 50% laceration provides mechanical insight into the 50% rule. Additionally, a drastic decrease in viscoelastic stress parameters after only an 8.2% laceration suggests that time-dependent mechanisms protecting tissues during impact loadings are highly compromised regardless of laceration size.

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