Tendons and ligaments are like strong, stretchy bands in your body. The big difference between them is how they connect.
Tendons and ligaments help you move and keep your body steady. As we get older, both tendons and ligaments can get weaker and more prone to injuries. This article will help you understand the differences between them and what to do if they get hurt.
What Are Tendons and Ligaments?
Tendons and ligaments are thick bands made of a material called collagen. They do similar jobs, helping your body move and stay stable.
Here’s the main difference: tendons connect muscles to bones, while ligaments link bones to other bones. There are some smaller differences too.
Tendons have bundles of fibers, surrounded by something called endotenon, which lets the fibers move smoothly. This helps your muscles work properly.
Ligaments are more elastic than tendons. There are two types: white ligaments have sturdy collagen fibers and don’t stretch much, while yellow ligaments have elastic fibers, allowing more movement. Ligaments are mainly found at joints, while tendons connect muscles to bones.
Both tendons and ligaments can get injured easily, and their injuries often show similar symptoms.
Injuries That Affect Them
Tendon and ligament injuries are quite common, and a few things can increase your risk of getting hurt:
- Overuse: Doing sports or activities too much.
- Trauma: Getting a hard hit or fall.
- Twisting: Putting stress on tendons or ligaments in an awkward way.
- Weak Muscles: Not staying active can make your muscles weak and more prone to injury.
Some common injuries include:
Tendon injuries are pretty common, especially in sports. About 30-50% of sports injuries are related to tendons.
- Strains: These happen when a tendon or the muscle it’s connected to gets damaged. Strains can be very painful and might take a while to heal.
- Tendinitis: It’s when a tendon becomes swollen and irritated, often from overuse. This can make the area painful, swollen, and warm.
- Tendinosis: Similar to a strain, but it happens over time due to overuse or incorrect sports techniques.
- Subluxation: When a tendon moves out of place, causing pain and weakness in the joint. This is more likely if you have certain body differences.
- Tendon Ruptures: These are severe injuries where the tendon tears, usually due to a mix of sudden and long-term stress.
Ligament injuries, like sprains, happen when a ligament stretches or tears. The knees, ankles, and wrists are commonly affected, especially after a fall that puts stress on the ligaments.
- Grade 1: A mild sprain where the ligament stretches but doesn’t tear.
- Grade 2: A moderate sprain with partial tearing of the ligament.
- Grade 3: Severe sprains where the ligament completely tears, making the joint unstable and often needing surgery.
Some ligament injuries are more common than others, like a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. After a ligament injury, the joint can feel unstable, especially in sprained ankles and knees.
Other Soft Tissue Injuries
In addition to strains and sprains, you can also bruise tendons, ligaments, and the surrounding tissue. Bursitis, which feels like a tendon or ligament injury, happens when small sacs near your joints become inflamed due to overuse or extreme joint stress.
Differences in Treatments
Treating tendon and ligament injuries is quite similar.
For minor injuries, doctors usually recommend the RICE method:
- Rest: Give the injured area a break.
- Ice: Apply ice to the affected area to minimise swelling and discomfort.
- Compression: Wrap the injury to reduce swelling and help it heal.
- Elevation: Keep the injury higher than your heart to ease pain and reduce swelling.
You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers for pain and inflammation. But remember, they don’t fix the injury, so don’t overdo it.
More severe injuries might need physical therapy, or in the case of a complete tear, surgery.
Tendinitis and bursitis often heal on their own, but sometimes they might need treatment, like corticosteroid injections or surgery if the problem is severe.
Tendon and ligament injuries can be really painful, and they can feel like a broken bone. It’s difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.
Even though many minor injuries can heal on their own, it’s crucial to get help if the pain is severe or doesn’t go away. A doctor can diagnose the issue and suggest the right treatment. Ignoring the pain can lead to more problems, so don’t hesitate to seek medical care.