Background: The effect of corticosteroids on tendon properties is poorly understood, and current data are contradictory and diverse. The biomechanical effect of steroids on rotator cuff tendon has not been studied, to our knowledge. The current study was undertaken to characterize the biomechanical effects of corticosteroid exposure on both uninjured and injured rat rotator cuff tendon.
Methods: One hundred and twenty-three male Sprague-Dawley rats were randomly assigned to four groups: control (C), tendon injury (I), steroid exposure (S), and tendon injury plus steroid exposure (I+S). Unilateral tendon injuries consisting of a full-thickness defect across 50% of the total width of the infraspinatus tendon were created. Steroid treatment consisted of a single dose of methylprednisolone placed into the subacromial space. At one, three, and five weeks postoperatively, the shoulders were harvested and the infraspinatus tendon was subjected to biomechanical testing. Two specimens from each group were used for histological analysis.
Results: At one week, maximum load, maximum stress, and stiffness were all significantly decreased in Group S compared with the values in Group C. Mean maximum load decreased from 37.9 N in Group C to 27.5 N in Group S (p < 0.0005). Mean maximum stress decreased from 18.1 MPa in Group C to 13.6 MPa in Group S (p < 0.0005). Mean stiffness decreased from 26.3 N/mm in Group C to 17.8 N/mm in Group S (p < 0.0005). At one week, mean maximum stress in Group I+S (17.0 MPa) was significantly decreased compared with the value in Group I (19.5 MPa) (p < 0.0005). At both the three-week and the five-week time point, there were no significant differences between Group C and Group S or between Group I and Group I+S with regard to mean maximum load, maximum stress, or stiffness. Histological analysis showed fat cells and collagen attenuation in Groups S and I+S. These changes appeared to be transient.
Conclusions: A single dose of corticosteroids significantly weakens both intact and injured rat rotator cuff tendons at one week. This effect is transient as the biomechanical properties of the steroid-exposed groups returned to control levels by three weeks.
Clinical Relevance: Our findings in this rat model suggest that a single corticosteroid dose has significant short-term effects on the biomechanical properties of both injured and uninjured rotator cuff tendon. These effects should be weighed against any potential benefit prior to administering a subacromial corticosteroid injection.