Differences Between Ligaments & Tendons

Ligaments and tendons are part of the musculoskeletal system, with ligaments attaching bones to bones and tendons muscles to bones.They each serve very important functions to the joints and bones. Ligaments and tendons are made of dense layered collagen fibers, called fibrous connective tissue. Although collagenous tissues are sturdy, applying excessive force on either the ligament or tendon can cause serious injuries.

Model of a human foot with ligaments and tendons depicted. (Image: Eraxion/iStock/Getty Images)

Ligaments

Ligaments serve as connectors, linking the ends of bones together at a joint. The joints allow for the performance of simple and complex motions throughout the body, and ligaments come in a variety of sizes and shapes to support, strengthen and stabilize the joints.

Tendons

Tendons attach muscles to bones. According to a report by Dr. Pekka Kannus in the July 2000 issue of “Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports,” tendons aid in the movement of bones by transmitting force from the muscle to the bone. Tendons aid in a wide range of motion and act to resist pressures; hence, it is important that they vary in shape and size.

Rupture of Ligament

When ligaments receive force greater than their resistance capacity, the collagenous tissue will over-stretch or tear, either partially or completely, thus resulting in injuries. According to Medline Plus, a “stretched or torn ligament," also known as sprain, occurs most frequently in the ankle and wrist. Dr. Cyril B. Frank explains in the May 2004 issue of “Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions” that the healing process involves three overlapping phases. In the first phase, bleeding and clotting of blood occur. Inflammation of tissues also takes place at the injury site. In the second phase, the matrix and fibroblastic cells replicate excessively, and in the final phase, the matrix remodels itself and matures over time.

Rupture of Tendon

Similar to the ligaments, when tendons receive force greater than their resistance capacity, injuries will result with the tearing and over-stretching of tissues. As noted in Medline Plus, a strain, which refers to a “stretched or torn tendon” can develop over time or occur abruptly. Dr. Pankaj Sharma and Dr. Nicole Maffulli write in the January 2005 issue of “The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery,” that the healing process of tendon injuries involves three simultaneously occurring phases. In the first phase, inflammation at the injury site occurs and the growth of new blood vessels and collagen begins. In the second phase, the rapid reproduction of reticular fibers occurs at its maximum level, and in the final phase, remodeling occurs. New cells will differentiate into fibrous tissue and will eventually mature into a “scar-like tendon tissue.”

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