This study introduces a noninvasive wearable system for investigating tendon loading patterns during outdoor locomotion on variable terrain. The system leverages shear wave tensiometry, which is a new approach for assessing tendon load by tracking wave speed within the tissue. Our wearable tensiometry system uses a battery-operated piezoelectric actuator to induce micron-scale shear waves in a tendon. A data logger monitors wave propagation by recording from two miniature accelerometers mounted on the skin above the tendon. Wave speed is determined from the wave travel time between accelerometers. The wearable system was used to record Achilles tendon wave speed at 100 Hz during 1-km outdoor walking trials in nine young adults. Inertial measurement units (IMUs) simultaneously monitored participant position, walking speed, and ground incline. An analysis of 5108 walking strides revealed the coupled biomechanical effects of terrain slope and walking speed on tendon loading. Uphill slopes increased the tendon wave speed during push-off, whereas downhill slopes increased tendon wave speeds during early stance braking. Walking speed significantly modulated peak tendon wave speed on uphill slopes but had less influence on downhill slopes. Walking speed consistently induced greater early stance wave speeds for all slopes. These observations demonstrate that wearable shear wave tensiometry holds promise for evaluating tendon tissue kinetics in natural environments and uncontrolled movements. There are numerous practical applications of wearable tensiometry spanning orthopedics, athletics, rehabilitation, and ergonomics.
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