Introduction: Understanding the mechanical and morphological adaptation of the Achilles tendon (AT) in response to acute exercise could have important implications for athletic performance, injury prevention, and rehabilitation. The purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic review and critical evaluation of the literature to determine the immediate effect of a single bout of exercise on the mechanical and morphological properties of the AT in vivo.
Methods: Five electronic research databases were systematically searched for intervention-based studies reporting mechanical and morphological properties of the AT after a single bout of exercise.
Results: Searches revealed 3292 possible articles; 21 met the inclusion criteria. There is evidence that maximal isometric contractions and prolonged static stretching (>5 min) of the triceps surae complex cause an immediate decrease in AT stiffness, whereas prolonged running and hopping have minimal effect. Limited but consistent evidence exists, indicating that AT hysteresis is reduced after prolonged static stretching. Consistent evidence supports a reduction in free AT diameter (anterior–posterior) after dynamic ankle exercise, and this change appears most pronounced in the healthy tendon and after eccentric exercise.
Conclusions: The mechanical and morphological properties of the AT in vivo are affected by acute exercise in a mode- and dose-dependent manner. Transient changes in AT stiffness, hysteresis, and diameter after unaccustomed exercise modes and doses may expose the tendon to increased risk of strain injury and impact on the mechanical function of the triceps surae muscle–tendon unit.