Bone cells are capable of sensing and responding to mechanical forces, but mechanosensitivity begins to decline soon after the stimulus is initiated. Under continued stimulation, bone is desensitized to mechanical stimuli. We sought to determine the amount of time required to restore mechanosensitivity to desensitized bone cells in vivo by manipulating the recovery time (0, 0.5, 1, 2, 4 or 8 h) allowed between four identical daily loading bouts. We also investigated the osteogenic effectiveness of shorter-term recovery periods, lasting several seconds (0.5, 3.5, 7 or 14 s), introduced between each of 36 identical daily loading cycles. Using the rat tibia four-point bending model, the right tibia of 144 adult female Sprague-Dawley rats was subjected to bending, sham bending or no loading. In the rats receiving recovery periods between loading bouts, histomorphometric measurements from the endocortical surface of the loaded and nonloaded control (left) tibiae revealed more than 100 % higher relative bone formation rates in the 8 h recovery group than in the 0 and 0.5 h recovery groups. Approximately 8 h of recovery was sufficient to restore full mechanosensitivity to the cells. In the rats allowed time to recover between load cycles, 14 s of recovery resulted in significantly higher (66–190 %) relative bone formation rates compared to any of the three shorter recovery periods. In both experiments, bone formation in the sham-bending animals was similar to that in the nonloaded control group. The results demonstrate the importance of recovery periods for (i) restoring mechanosensitivity to bone cells and (ii) maximizing the osteogenic effects of mechanical loading (exercise) regimens.
resensitization; recovery; mechanical loading; histomorphometry; bone adaptation