Ligaments and Tendons: What's the Diff?

Ligaments and Tendons: What's the Diff?

When it comes to staying connected to your body, it's important to know a bit about the connective tissues that help hold you together. It's easy to confuse tendons and ligaments, but these two connective tissues are not the same thing and actually perform different functions for the body. Here's what you need to know.

Tendons connect muscle to bone. These tough yet flexible bands of fibrous tissue attach the skeletal muscles to the bones they move. Essentially, tendons enable you to move; think of them as intermediaries between muscles and bones. You've most likely heard of the Achilles tendon (named after the Greek demigod hero with the fatal weakness in his eponymous tendon), which connects the muscles of the calf to the heel bone. This tendon is vulnerable to tearing and tendonitis, so do take care and stretch the calf muscle to keep the tendon flexible too.

Though similar to tendons, ligaments connect bone to bone and help to stabilize joints they surround. They are composed mostly of long, stringy collagen fibers that create bands of tough, fibrous connective tissue. Ligaments are slightly elastic, so they can be stretched and gradually lengthen, increasing flexibility. But if stretched beyond a certain point, ligaments can become overstretched and compromise the integrity of the joint they are supposed to be stabilizing — so stretch with caution. The term double-jointed actually refers to people who have highly elastic ligaments, which allow them to move their joints into more extreme positions than most people. While no ligament plays a major role in Greek myths, the ligaments found in the knee, especially the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), are often talked about on the sports page, since they are prone to tearing, sidelining quarterbacks, soccer stars, and skiers alike.

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