Tendons and ligaments are different types of connective tissue. Tendons connect muscles to bones, while ligaments connect bones to one another. Although these tissues have different roles in the body, their similar structure means tendon and ligament supplements are typically very similar.
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Joint, Tendon and Ligament Injuries
Tendons and ligaments play similar roles in your body, linking important parts together. While tendons join muscles and bones to one another, ligaments attach bones to other bones. You can also find ligaments surrounding joints and holding specific organs — like the liver, intestines and stomach — in place.
Typically, tendon and ligament injuries are fairly mild. Virtually everyone experiences a tendon or ligament strain or sprain in their life. However, torn ligaments and tendons are much more serious. These injuries can be extremely painful and limit your mobility. You're also likely to experience swelling and other symptoms of inflammation around the injured area.
In certain cases, you may be able to return to normal activities after a period of rest or wearing a brace. In other cases, physical rehabilitation and surgery may be required. Regardless, these injuries can take between weeks and months to heal.
Given the complexity of such injuries and the long duration of the healing process, many people choose to take supplements to help. These supplements promote wound healing and support the structures that make up your ligaments and tendons.
Collagen in Tendons and Ligaments
As types of fibrous connective tissue, both ligaments and tendons are primarily made of collagen. According to an October 2012 study in Acta Cirurgica Brasileira, collagen is found in various parts of the body but is present in different forms. The different types of collagen are referred to as types I, II, III, IV and V.
According to a March 2013 study in the Biology of Sport, both tendons and ligaments are made of collagen type I. Ligaments are almost entirely made of this type of collagen (95 percent), while tendons are between 60 and 80 percent of this type of collagen. Fasciae, another connective tissue that separates organs and muscles from one another, is also mainly composed of this type of collagen.
Despite their different functions in the body, the structural similarity between these tissues means that there's a large overlap in the dietary supplements and foods that can positively affect their functions. Essentially, tendon and ligament supplements are likely to be the same. In fact, since collagen is also found in muscles, skin and fasciae, these same foods and supplements are also likely to affect those types of tissue positively.
Tendon and Ligament Supplements
Tendon and ligament supplements can promote the production of collagen in your body and support wound healing. However, not all of them have the same effects on your body.
According to the chapter "Do Dietary Factors Influence Tendon Metabolism?" from the book Metabolic Influences on Risk for Tendon Disorders, published in January 2016, vitamins C and D can help your body make collagen.
Similarly, a variety of amino acids can help support ligament and tendon health. Leucine, glycine, proline and cysteine can all synthesize collagen in your body.
A small January 2017 study in the_ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition_ showed that gelatin supplements — which increase the levels of glycine, proline, hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine in the blood — can also improve collagen synthesis.
A further March 2019 review in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism supported these findings, reporting that increased gelatin or hydrolyzed collagen consumption increases collagen synthesis. This review, which specifically referred to the use of these supplements for knee injury treatment, found that the people taking the supplements also experienced less pain when standing and moving around.
These studies and an October 2012 review in the_ Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery_ reported that vitamins C and D, along with vitamin E, can help reduce inflammation in ligaments. This can help with pain management and also accelerate the healing process. Notably, these vitamins can also be used as muscle repair supplements.
Although there's no need to take copper supplements, you should make sure your intake of copper is adequate. The review in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism reported that copper deficiencies can negatively affect ligament and tendon healing. If you were already deficient in this essential nutrient when you injured your ligament, supplementation may be appropriate to support its healing.
Foods Used as Ligament Supplements
A variety of nutraceuticals are thought to have the potential to improve ligament and tendon healing. These include turmeric, curcumin, taurine, bromelain and boswellic acid. You may recognize some of these names — for example, turmeric is a commonly used spice; taurine is often used as an ingredient in energy drinks; bromelain is a natural compound found in pineapples.
Although these nutraceuticals are safe and healthy for most people, their ability to support tendon and ligament healing has not been well studied. However, these nutrients do have anti-inflammatory properties that may be helpful in the healing process.
Antioxidant-rich foods may also help support ligament and tendon healing. Some nutrients, like vitamin C, double as antioxidants. These beneficial bioactive compounds are meant to help remove harmful reactive oxygen species from the body.
As with nutraceuticals, the benefits of antioxidants have not been well-studied. However, the review in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism recommends consuming a diet rich in antioxidants to reduce inflammation. Specific antioxidants, like polyphenols, have been shown to be useful as muscle repair supplements, as well.
Although you might be tempted to use bone broth for healing tendons and ligaments because of its gelatin and collagen content, this product is unlikely to help support ligament and tendon healing. A second study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, published in May 2019, found that the amino acid content in bone broth can be highly variable.
While there's nothing wrong with bone broth, you're best off taking supplements if you're trying to ingest specific amino acids to support collagen synthesis.
- International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: "Bone Broth Unlikely to Provide Reliable Concentrations of Collagen Precursors Compared with Supplemental Sources of Collagen Used in Collagen Research"
- International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: "Nutrition for the Prevention and Treatment of Injuries in Track and Field Athletes"
- Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery: "Rehabilitation After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Vitamin C–Enriched Gelatin Supplementation Before Intermittent Activity Augments Collagen Synthesis"
- Europe PMC: Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology: "Do Dietary Factors Influence Tendon Metabolism?"
- Biology of Sport: "The +1245g/T Polymorphisms in the Collagen Type I Alpha 1 (col1a1) Gene in Polish Skiers With Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury"
- Acta Cirurgica Brasileira: "An Experimental Model for the Study of Collagen Fibers in Skeletal Muscle"
- UPMC Orthopedic Care: "Tendon and Ligament Tears, Ruptures, and Injuries"
- InformedHealth.org: "What Are Ligaments?"
- MedlinePlus: "Tendon vs. Ligament"