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What is the Difference Between a Ligament and a Tendon?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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On one level, there is not much difference organically between a ligament and a tendon. Both are formed from chains of collagen cells produced by proteins stored in the body. This is where the similarity stops, however. A ligament acts much like a shock absorber and connects bone to bone. A tendon acts more like an anchoring point for a band of muscles and attaches muscle to bone. The large Achilles tendon, for example, attaches calf muscles to the ankle bone, while a ligament holds the calf and thigh bones together at the knee joint.

When a person suffers a traumatic injury such as a sprain, both ligaments and tendons could be torn or even separated completely. A significant loss of mobility is possible with both a ligament and a tendon injury, since the body's weight-bearing structure has been compromised. Treatment for ligament or tendon sprains often includes immobility of the affected joint or limb until the body can regenerate the collagen and heal itself.

One difference between a ligament and a tendon injury is the type of surgery which may be required. A torn tendon may cause the entire attached muscle group to fail. Surgical repair of a tendon often involves an actual reattachment of the tendon to the bone and possibly months of immobilization and rehabilitation as the tendon's attachment becomes stronger and the muscles become less atrophied through regular exercise. A severely torn tendon can take at least 6-8 weeks to heal before minimal mobility is restored.

Orthopedic surgery for a ligament involves a different approach. The damaged ligament can sometimes be reattached to the joint bones surgically, but other times a substitute material is injected to provide cushioning and protection as the body's natural collagen begins to replace the damaged ligament. Recovery from a ligament injury can take just as long as a tendon injury, but some people regain mobility sooner following treatment for a ligament injury. Doctors may also suggest a longer period of immobility for a ligament injury, in order to give the body enough time to repair the damaged collagen from within. Too much movement of the joint could cause the new ligament material to fail again.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon275281 — On Jun 17, 2012

Try Ayurvedic (India), or traditional chinese doctors, also an osteopathic doctor should all be able to help.

By anon261107 — On Apr 13, 2012

I tore my right ankle tendon and right leg ligament in 1990. I did not know it because of the lack of technology. I had my tendons in my right ankle repaired in 1997.

Ever since that fateful day, I have had pain -- nonstop pain. Bearing almost all my weight on my left leg has caused severe leg pain in a previously healthy leg. My right leg has weakened and my left leg has begun to show signs of degrading in ability.

Has anyone else suffered from this? If so, how did you deal with the constant severe pain? Did your doctor diagnose you with a problem? If so, what did he/she diagnose you with?

By anon83145 — On May 09, 2010

I tore a ligament in my left foot across the bridge near the left side at the end of January. I am active on it but have to wear a support on it every day because it aches so much. Should it ache so much after three months?

By anon78618 — On Apr 19, 2010

i have a very very loud snapping sound on my right side that causes severe pain, and i can't do any hing while this happens. Then my side goes into muscle spasms that are really debilitating. this can carry on snapping many times. i have to go to A/e every day for morphine pain relief because the pain does not stop.

i have pain all the time but it feels like a head ache in my side from hip to just under my ribs. i have been to A/E 168 times in just over a year.

By pauloraul — On Apr 13, 2010

I injured my MCL ligament of my left knee (my traumatologist tells me it's a tendon, not a ligament. I guess doctors call it that here in Bolivia) playing baseball (sliding).

When

sliding properly, your left knee is supposed to form a "4" with your right leg and in my case, the day of the accident, my left leg and knee twisted to the the other side (left) causing me terrible pain together with a twisted ankle. The doctor diagnosed me with chronic bursitis after and ultrasound was taken and a knee mobility test.

After three weeks of practically staying home taking care of the injury (I took anti-inflammatories for four days) there were complications and developed a compartment syndrome on my lower leg. The doctor injected me with cortisone on the ligament area then continued with the anti inflammatories and local heparin cream. I was in observation for four days. Otherwise the doctor was going to operate (fasciectomy).

I was in terrible pain, couldn't keep myself

standing because of the blood wouldn't circulate back and this produced painful compression on my calves so I had to stay in bed until recently. It's been seven weeks since the accident, and the pain has subsided, however the inflammation in my lower leg is still terrible.

The ligament (MLC) however, still produces pain every time I flex my leg. I read that taking anti-inflammatory drugs was not the wise thing to do because they interfere with the natural healing process of the body.

I'm concerned about this and also if it's normal for my knee to still hurt when flexing and the swelling of my lower leg if normal after four weeks. Please advise. Thank you very much.

By anon65579 — On Feb 14, 2010

Sorry, i don't have an answer because I am asking the exact question. I've been on Cipro for three days and today I noticed a pulling sensation in the back of my left leg, above the ankle.

I'm 74 years old, and just read about this on a medical website. My doctor never warned me about this possible side effect.

By anon30518 — On Apr 20, 2009

I have a damaged ligament; stretched. I have an antibiotic called ciprofloxacin which carries a warning about increased danger of damaged tendons when taking this. Should I take it?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
Learn more
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