Pregnant women experience weight gain, gait changes, and biochemical fluctuations that impair joint function and alter the maternal skeleton. Hormonal changes increase pelvic ligament laxity in preparation for childbirth and affect peripheral joint laxity. Calcium demands also rise during pregnancy and lactation, resulting in reduced bone mineral density and maternal bone loss. Altered tendon properties and bone loss during pregnancy and lactation may impact tendon insertion sites, such as rotator cuff tendons where insertion site ruptures are common. However, the effects of pregnancy and lactation at the tendon-to-bone interface have not been investigated. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate supraspinatus tendon mechanical properties and insertion site microstructure during pregnancy, lactation, and post-weaning recovery in female rats. We hypothesized that pregnancy and lactation would compromise supraspinatus tendon mechanical properties and subchondral bone microstructure. Female rats were divided into virgin, pregnancy, lactation, and recovery groups, and supraspinatus tendons were mechanically evaluated. Surprisingly, tendon mechanics were unaffected by pregnancy and lactation. However, tendon modulus decreased two-weeks post-weaning. Additionally, tendons failed by bony avulsion at the insertion site, and the lactation group exhibited reduced failure properties corresponding to decreased subchondral bone mineralization. Lactation also resulted in dramatic bone loss at the epiphysis, but trabecular bone microarchitecture recovered post-weaning. In conclusion, lactation following pregnancy impaired trabecular bone microstructure and subchondral bone mineralization, leading to reduced supraspinatus tendon-to-bone insertion site failure properties. These findings will contribute towards understanding the pathogenesis of tendon-to-bone disorders.

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