Subfailure damage in ligaments was evaluated macroscopically from a structural perspective (referring to the entire ligament as a structure) and microscopically from a cellular perspective. Freshly harvested rat medial collateral ligaments (MCLs) were used as a model in ex vivo experiments. Ligaments were preloaded with 0.1 N to establish a consistent point of reference for length (and strain) measurements. Ligament structural damage was characterized by nonrecoverable difference in tissue length after a subfailure stretch. The tissue's mechanical properties (via stress vs. strain curves measured from a preloaded state) after a single subfailure stretch were also evaluated (n = 6 pairs with a different stretch magnitude applied to each stretched ligament). Regions containing necrotic cells were used to characterize cellular damage after a single stretch. It should be noted that the number of damaged cells was not quantified and the difference between cellular area and area of fluorescence is not known. Structural and cellular damage were represented and compared as functions of subfailure MCL strains. Statistical analysis indicated that the onset of structural damage occurs at 5.14% strain (referenced from a preloaded length). Subfailure strains above the damage threshold changed the shape of the MCL stress-strain curve by elongating the toe region (i.e., increasing laxity) as well as decreasing the tangential modulus and ultimate stress. Cellular damage was induced at ligament strains significantly below the structural damage threshold. This cellular damage is likely to be part of the natural healing process in mildly sprained ligaments.
- Cell necrosis
- Medial collateral ligament