Is It A Tendon Or Ligament Injury Keeping Me On The Couch?


When someone walks into the clinic with a reoccurring, nagging, chronic type of complaint – usually without a clear story of how they got the injury in the first place – it’s usually a connective tissue problem.

The truth is, we talk a lot more about muscles and bones. But we can’t ignore the connective tissues of our body – they are what literally is holding us together.

In fact, this week I got the question:

“My ankles have been hurting on and off for months. Most often when I squat down to play with my kids or when I walk the dog up too many hills.  It doesn’t feel like it’s in my muscle – could it be a tendon or ligament?”

The answer was yes, it most likely is a problem with your tendon or ligament. So I asked, “Do you know the difference between the two?”

I was not surprised that this woman, although a lifelong athlete and very knowledgeable about her body, did not really know what was what when it came to how tendons and ligaments work.

So, I thought it was time we learn a little about the tissues connecting us.  When we understand how our bodies work, we can make better decisions on how to treat them the best.  And when we treat our bodies well, they perform well for us for many years to come.  That, my friends, is the ultimate goal here.

Tendons vs. Ligaments

Put simply tendons attach muscle to bone and ligaments attach bone to bone.  And if you are interested . . . fasciae connect muscles to other muscles but don’t get as much attention.

An example, most people are familiar with is the Achilles Tendon.  It attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone.  It is a common location for pain and injury since it takes a beating with every step as we push off and then land.

Very close by in your foot, are multiple ligaments connecting your lower part of your leg bone to the bones in your foot.  One particular ligament (the anterior talofibular ligament) attaches from the outside of your ankle to the top of your foot. If you turn your ankle stepping off a curb, this ligament can be injured as it is overstretched by this movement.  This is the most common ligament injured when someone has an ankle sprain.

Despite this difference, tendons and ligaments do have a lot in common.  First, they are made up of primarily the same type of tissue – collagen fibers. These fibers in a tendon are arranged parallel to one another which allows them to have more movement and elasticity as they adapt to the movement of the muscle.

A ligament on the other hand, has collagen fibers arranged across one another. Like anything that is woven together, these fibers are able to provide more stability that is needed for the bones and support for the joints these ligaments cross.

What happens when I injure connective tissue?

Both tendons and ligaments are critical in making your joints move correctly.  When you injure a joint, it is very common to injure both connective tissues in the process.  A thorough evaluation by a physical therapist can identify what structures need to be addressed in the rehab process for optimal recovery.

If you have this type of injury you probably can’t wait to get active again.  We don’t blame you! However, it’s important not to rush into high-level activities that could reinjure the area.  On the other hand, too much rest can cause weakness that will worsen the problem or scar tissue formation that will limit your recovery.

So, which is it?

By sorting out which is which you  may have a better idea of what is causing your pain.  Unfortunately, it’s not an answer I can give you via a blog post – and Dr. Google isn’t going to be able to give you sound advice either.

Your best bet is to run the problem by a professional. And that’s exactly why we offer a Discovery Visit.  We can learn about your problem, get to the root cause, and let you know what the next best step is for you.

We offer this absolutely free with no obligation, because you may not even need physical therapy.  A better understanding of the problem and a few suggestions may put you on the right path.  Click the link below to request and Discovery Visit:

. . . Then stay tuned for next week’s posts where we will bust some myths about tendon injuries that we found were keeping many of our clients stuck!