Tendon vs. Ligament Injuries

You were just about to throw the winning shot in your weekly basketball game with your friends. You had the perfect angle, jumped up to throw the ball, and at that moment, someone on the other team also jumped up in an attempt to block your shot. As sometimes happens, the two of you got tangled up, and both of you hit the blacktop. The other person was fine, but when you tried to stand up and put weight on your right leg, you could definitely tell something was not quite right with your knee.

After a few days of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) therapy, it did not seem to be getting better, so you made an appointment to come see Dr. Horst. You are pretty certain it is either a tendon or a ligament injury, but how you tell the difference? Keep reading to find out the difference between tendons and ligaments themselves, as well as their common injuries.

What’s the Difference between Tendons and Ligaments?

The difference between tendons and ligaments can be confusing because they have somewhat similar characteristics within the joint structure. In rather simple terms, tendons attach muscles to bone within the joint, while ligaments serve to connect bone to bone.

Tendons help body movement by transmitting force (i.e., movement) from muscle to bone, allowing you to stand, walk, and jump. Ligaments work by allowing for full range of motion. Even something as seemingly simple as flexing your fingers is actually the result of a complicated system of ligaments that link one bone to the next one.

Another difference is in the actual connective tissue, formed of collagen fibers, that makes up tendons and ligaments. Although the actual tissue is the same, it is formed differently for tendons. Because this connective tissue needs to have more elasticity for tendons, since they are helping move muscles, the fibers are laid out in a parallel pattern. On the other hand, those same fibers are laid out in a crisscross pattern for ligament connective tissue, in order to stabilize and strengthen the bones in the joint structure.

Tendon Injuries

To go back to the scenario of your basketball injury, this is a case in which you most likely suffered an injury to your Achilles tendon, which attaches your heel bone to the back of your knee joint. This is actually the most common tendon injury seen in basketball, as a result of having to stop, start, and change directions, while moving very rapidly. Retired basketball great Kobe Bryant understands how debilitating an Achilles tendon injury can be, having completely torn his in 2013, requiring surgery and several months sitting on the bench.

Ligament Injuries

Unlike tendons, which are designed to give the joint more flexibility, ligaments are more rigid to provide stability. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are the most common ligament injury in sports, including basketball.

The ACL is located in the middle of the knee joint and helps connect the bottom of the thigh bone to the top of the shin bone. If there is excessive sideways force to the knee joint, or if you land from a jump in such a way that your upper leg turns in one direction, while your lower leg turns in a different one, you can suffer an ACL tear.

Whether you are an elite athlete or just a weekend warrior, a tendon or ligament injury can be frustrating, as it can put you on the sidelines for months. Understanding the difference between each type of injury, along with proper rest, rehabilitation, and chiropractic care, can get you on the road to recovery.

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