Ligaments and tendons

What Is The Difference Between Tendons And Ligaments

Nidhi Nangia
By Nidhi Nangia. Updated: April 9, 2020
What Is The Difference Between Tendons And Ligaments

Tendons and ligaments are parts of the musculoskeletal system which serve extremely important functions for bones and joints. Both are formed of fibrous connective tissue, both are made up of living cells and both have plenty of collagen. Although they have many similarities, there are important differences. Unless you are a student of physiology or are particularly interested in sports, you may not give much consideration to these important parts of the body. That is until you have an injury and your doctor informs you about the problem. Whether you have pulled a tendon or torn a ligament, it can be very painful. This oneHOWTO article will try to find out what is the difference between tendons and ligaments.

You may also be interested in: Why does my Achilles Tendon Hurt when I Walk
  1. What are tendons?
  2. What are ligaments?
  3. Tendons vs ligaments: major points of difference
  4. Difference between the rupture of tendons and ligaments
  5. Difference in the working of tendons and ligaments
  6. Difference in types of injury
  7. Conclusion

What are tendons?

Tendons are fibrous connective tissues that play an important role in connecting different parts of the body. The tissue is tough and flexible. Tendons connect end parts of muscles to bones, thus acting as interconnectors or mediators between our bone structures. When a tendon tears due to over-stretching, the condition is termed as tendonitis. Inflammation takes place at the site of damage, resulting in swelling, soreness and temporary loss of movement in the concerned muscles. Tendons are present throughout the body from head to foot. The Achilles tendon is the biggest tendon in human body, which attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. The rotator cuff tendon helps in rotating your shoulder backward and forward.

What are ligaments?

Ligaments are also connective tissues, but instead of connecting bones to muscles, ligaments connect bones to joints. In other words, ligaments are connectors which join the ends of bones to joints. With the help of ligaments, joints become movable and you are able to perform both simple and complex movements of different body parts. Ligaments can be of different sizes and shapes and aim at providing support, strength and stability to the joints. Ligaments can be peritoneal, fetal remnant and articular. Peritoneal ligaments form the lining of your abdominal cavity, fetal remnant ligaments are formed during the development of fetus and articular ligaments join one bone to the other. For instance, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) attaches the thigh bone with the shin bone, stabilizing the knee joint in the process.

Tendons vs ligaments: major points of difference

Here are the major points of difference between tendons and ligaments:

  • Tendons connect muscle to bones and are present only at the end of a skeletal muscle. On the other hand, ligaments connect a bone to another bone and are present in joints.
  • Tendons are made up of white fibrous connective tissues, while ligaments are made up of yellow fibrous connective tissues.
  • Tendons are tough and inelastic, while ligaments are strong and elastic.
  • Tendons have fibers in the form of compact parallel bundles, whereas ligaments have fibers that are compact and not in the arrangement of parallel bundles.
  • In tendons, fibroblasts are formed in continuous rows, but ligaments have tendons in a scattered form.
  • Ligaments can be categorized into three types, peritoneal, fetal remnant and articular, while there is no such classification for tendons.
  • Tendons have a heavy supply of blood, while ligaments have a comparatively poor blood supply.

Difference between the rupture of tendons and ligaments

Ligament rupture

Ligaments have a resistance capacity, beyond which they rupture. If they receive greater force than they can resist, the collagenous tissue tears or over-stretches. This happens either completely or partially and results in an injury. A torn or stretched ligament is termed as sprain and most commonly occurs in the wrist or ankle. The healing process of a ligament rupture comprises of three phases. During the first phase, the blood flows and then clots, followed by tissue inflammation at the site of the injury. During the second phase, replication of fibroblastic and matrix cells takes place excessively. During the third and final phase, the matrix starts remodeling and matures with time.

Tendon rupture

Tendons also tear and overstretch when they receive greater force than their capacity. A torn or stretched tendon may occur suddenly or develop over time. The healing process of a tendon rupture also involves three phases. During the first phase, inflammation takes place at the site of the injury, new blood vessels start growing and collagen starts developing. During the second phase, reticular fibers reproduce rapidly. During the third and final phase, remodeling takes place. New cells develop to become fibrous tissue and eventually mature to make scar-like tendon tissues.

What Is The Difference Between Tendons And Ligaments - Difference between the rupture of tendons and ligaments
Image: Torn ligament

Difference in the working of tendons and ligaments

Ligaments are like ropes with a row of intertwined, tough cords used to keep bones bound. They also have elastic fibers due to which you are able to move your joint, but not beyond its maximum capacity. For instance, the knee joint has four ligaments which help to stabilize the knee, but they do not allow the knee to move too far in the left, right, front or backward direction.

Tendons are tough cords too, but are a little different from ligaments. As your muscle contracts, the cartilage attached to it pulls the bone to make the desired movement successful. Have you ever noticed your bicep’s position when you move your elbow? Tendons are designed to absorb some of the impact that the muscle takes during action.

Difference in types of injury

When a ligament is torn or over-stretched, it results in a sprain. Some sprains occur suddenly, such as from a fall, blow or awkward movement. Such sprains commonly occur in the wrist, knee or ankle. For instance, when you place your feet on a wrong step, your ankle twists in awkward position, snaps a ligament and causes your ankle to become wobbly and unstable. Sometimes, you may also feel a tear or hear a pop at the time of injury. A wrist may get sprained when you grab something while falling from a height. Symptoms include pain, bruising and swelling in the area. You may feel weakness in the joint and you may not be capable of bearing weight. How intense your symptoms are depends on whether the ligament is actually torn or just over-extended (also known as hyperextended).

When a tendon is torn or over-stretched, it results in a strain. The back, feet and legs are commonly affected by a strain. It often occurs during athletic exercise and habitual movement. People who over-train their body without taking proper rest have increased risk of getting these strains. Resting between workouts is important to let muscles repair. Symptoms of strain include swelling and pain, and sometimes, weakness and muscle cramping.

Tendonitis is a tendon injury that refers to inflammation of the cartilage. This often occurs due to the normal aging process. Like other body parts, tendons also become weaker with age and become more susceptible to get stressed and injured. Tendonitis may also occur due to overuse of a particular tendon. For example, golf players often develop tendonitis in their shoulder area. Symptoms include pain while moving the muscle, swelling in the affected area and skin feeling warm to the touch.


Tendons and ligaments are two main structures of the human body. Both of them support all kinds of movement that you need to walk, sit, stand, sleep, climb and do any activity which involves moving your body. Both ligaments and tendons have different structures and functions. Both of them play significant roles in making movements possible. In order to keep your tendons and ligaments in optimum working condition, give them sufficient rest in between work sessions, eat healthily and seek medical attention whenever you experience pain or inflammation in the joints. In case of a rupture or injury, wear a compression bandage, apply an ice pack, keep the injured part elevated and take painkillers and anti-inflammation medicines to feel better. Additional rest will also help you to recover quickly.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to What Is The Difference Between Tendons And Ligaments, we recommend you visit our Diseases & secondary effects category.

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What Is The Difference Between Tendons And Ligaments