Collagen fibres form cross-helical, cross-ply or quasi-random feltworks in extensible connective tissues; strain-induced reorientation of these networks gives rise to the non-linear mechanical properties of connective tissue at finite strains. Such tissues are also generally viscoelastic (i.e. display time-dependent properties). The hypothesis that time-dependent reorientation of collagen fibres is responsible for the viscoelasticity of such tissues is examined here using time-resolved X-ray diffraction measurements during stress-relaxation and creep transients applied to rat skin and bovine intramuscular connective tissue. Differences in the intensity and angular orientation of the third and fifth orders of the 67 nm meridional D-spacing of collagen molecules were shown before and after the application of loads or displacements. However, no changes in the D-spacing or angular orientation of collagen occurred during the time course of either stress-relaxation or creep in both tissues. This indicates that collagen fibre reorientation is not a primary source of their viscoelastic properties. The non-linear (strain-dependent) nature of the stress-relaxation response in these tissues suggests that relaxation processes within the collagen fibres or at the fibre-matrix interface may be responsible for their viscoelastic nature.

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