In simplest terms, a tendon is a band of fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone Tendons enable people to perform physical activities such as running, jumping and other movements. In essence, tendons are similar to ligaments except ligaments join one bone to another.
Without tendons, the body would be unable to move and function the way it does.
Tendons, like the name indicates, are capable of withstanding tension like an elastic band. When a muscle contracts it pulls on a bone to cause movement. This ability to withstand tension forms the basis of movement. Tendons are composed of gelatin-like cells called tenocytes, collagen proteins and water. Millions of collagen proteins are woven together to create a flexible, but tough, band called a tendon. The length of tendons varies from person to person. Despite their resiliency, tendons can be injured if they are overstrained. While tendons are able to withstand more than five times your body’s weight, collagen fibers in the tendon can develop small tears or completely rupture. Tendon damage occurs usually in the ankles, knees, shoulders, wrists, biceps, calves, and heels. Damaged tendons do not heal easily.
If tendons completely tear, however, surgical intervention is needed to reconnect the tissue to the bone. The four most common areas of the body which sustain ruptured tendons are the quadriceps (Figure 1), the Achilles (Figure 2), the rotator cuffs (Figure 3), and the biceps (Figure 4). The quadriceps are a group of muscles above the knee cap that are used to extend the leg at the knee.
The Achilles tendon is the tendon that runs on the back portion of the foot above the heel and is essential for pushing off with the foot. The rotator cuff is a group of four shoulder muscles which helps raise, rotate and provide stability for the shoulder socket.
Finally, biceps are the muscle of the arm which helps bring the hand toward the shoulder by bending at the elbow.
Tendon ruptures are typically caused by direct trauma, advanced age, and unusual loading. Unusual loading refers to situations – when the muscle contracts while being stretched in the opposite direction. Advanced age can affect a tendon’s strength.
Blood supply decreases as a person ages making the tendon weaker and more susceptible to injury.
Tendon ruptures can be diagnosed typically during physical examination, although imaging is done to confirm the diagnosis (Figure 5).
Although typically first treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation, surgery may be needed to fix a tendon rupture. For instance, an Achilles tendon rupture has a high rate of reoccurrence when treated conservatively.
Of course, there are ways to prevent tendon injury:
• Properly stretch prior to engaging in physical activity
• Avoid activities which place excessive stress on tendons.
•Alternate high-impact activities with low-impact activities’
• Listen to your body. If you feel pain, it’s best to stop your activity and get some rest.
Finally, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight and participate in exercises that will help strengthen your tendons. Ultimately, this will help preserve healthy tendons and minimize the risk of developing an injury.
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