Inelastic behaviors, such as softening, a progressive decrease in modulus before failure, occur in tendon and are important aspects in degeneration and tendinopathy. These inelastic behaviors are generally attributed to two potential mechanisms: plastic deformation and damage. However, it is not clear which is primarily responsible. In this study, we evaluated these potential mechanisms of tendon inelasticity by using a recently developed reactive inelasticity model (RIE), which is a structurally inspired continuum mechanics framework that models tissue inelasticity based on the molecular bond kinetics. Using RIE, we formulated two material models, one specific to plastic deformation and the other to damage. The models were independently fit to published macroscale experimental tensile tests of rat tail tendons. We quantified the inelastic effects and compared the performance of the two models in fitting the mechanical response during loading, relaxation, unloading, and reloading phases. Additionally, we validated the models by using the resulting fit parameters to predict an independent set of experimental stress–strain curves from ramp-to-failure tests. Overall, the models were both successful in fitting the experiments and predicting the validation data. However, the results did not strongly favor one mechanism over the other. As a result, to distinguish between plastic deformation and damage, different experimental protocols will be needed. Nevertheless, these findings suggest the potential of RIE as a comprehensive framework for studying tendon inelastic behaviors.

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