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The ability to measure the forces exerted in vivo on tendons and, consequently, the forces produced by muscles on tendons, offers a unique opportunity to investigate questions in disciplines as varied as physiology, biomechanics, orthopaedics and neuroscience. Until now, tendon loads could be assessed directly only by means of invasive sensors implanted within or attached to these collagenous structures. This study shows that the forces acting on tendons can be measured, in a non-invasive way, from the analysis of the propagation of an acoustic wave. Using the equine superficial digital flexor tendon as a model, it is demonstrated that the velocity of an ultrasonic wave propagating along the main axis of a tendon increases with the force applied to this tendon. Furthermore, we show that this velocity measurement can be performed even in the presence of skin overlying the tendon. To validate this measurement technique in vivo, the ultrasonic velocity plots obtained in the Achilles tendon at the walk were compared to the loads plots reported by other authors using invasive transducers.
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