Tendons and Ligaments: Pulling it all TogetherSean Russell
What Are Tendons & Ligaments? What Do They Do?
When it comes to the world of connective tissues, bones and muscles get all of the attention. They support and hold the body up, lift weights and perform feats of strength, protect our vital organs from damage, and let us participate in all sorts of other physical activities. However, when it comes to putting the body together Tendons and Ligaments are the tissues that keep us from falling apart.
Tendons and Ligaments are both made of an elastic and tough fiber called collagen. Collagen is a protein found all throughout the body in various forms, such as the cartilage of our ears, the squishy intervertebral discs between our vertebras, and is extremely concentrated in the tendon and ligaments. These collagen fibers give the tendons and ligaments their tremendous strength and elasticity. While tendons and ligaments are made of the same types of fibers, they have two very distinct functions. Let us take a separate look at each:
Tendons attach muscles to bone and help to facilitate a muscles contraction into a movement across a joint. For example, your biceps muscle is attached at one end to the scapula bone near the humerus of your upper arm, and the other end is attached to your radius bone in your forearm. When the biceps contract, the muscle fibers shorten, applying a force across your elbow joint and causing your forearm to curl toward the body. Without the tendons there to attach the muscle to the bone, the muscle would merely contract into a ball.
Ligaments attach bones to bones, and like tendons help facilitate movement across a joint. However, ligaments do this by preventing excessive movement and creating flushness in the joint. Ligaments are very elastic and pull the two ends of the bones toward each other to form a tight connection. Without ligaments, our joints would be very loose and prone to popping out of alignment or out of socket completely. That would cause major disruptions in our ability to move without injury on a regular basis.
Take for example a baseball pitcher who has repeatedly injured the ligaments of their shoulder through over many years. The upper arm, or humerus, is connected to the scapula by a series of ligaments. These ligaments pull the head of the humerus against the curved surface of the scapula to form the shoulder, a type of ball and socket joint. Those ligaments, which keep the ball and socket joint tight and secure, will have stretched over time due to excessive throwing, causing the shoulder to become loose and unstable to the point where when that pitcher throws the ball, the force of the throw pulls the humerus away from the scapula. This can lead to the head of the humerus to dislocate ligaments to tear, or the surface of the bone where the ligament attaches can also break off.
Tendon & Ligament Common Injuries
Minor injury to tendons and ligaments are commonly referred to as Strains, injuries to tendons, and Sprains, injuries to ligaments. These types of injuries are caused by overuse of the joint due to repetitive motion, or a sudden instability of the joint such as stepping down wrong and rolling an ankle. Sprains and strains are instances of over stretching or minor tears of a ligament or tendon. These types of injuries are normal and can heal on their own with some basic attention and can healing can be sped up using modalities, herbs, OTC, nutrition and some care.
Just Add R.I.C.E
R.I.C.E means Rest-Ice-Compress-Elevate and is used to relieve discomfort and encourage healing. Resting and not moving the affected area will prevent additional pain, which actually is the job of pain, to keep you from causing more damage to an injury. Icing the area for 20 minutes will reduce swelling to the injury by causing the blood vessels to constrict and slow the flow of blood. Compressing the injury with a bandage will add support to the injury and discourage further swelling. And elevating the injury will help blood and fluids from pooling a the injury site leading to additional swelling.
In addition to ice, many people prefer OTC cooling gels, herbal formulations (such as Herbal ICE), cooling sprays and more. Studies in many countries have seen faster healing through the use of ice alternatives as ice tendons to contract and tighten the area, as opposed to allowing free flow of fresh blood and nutrients to come through. Regardless your stance on ice this is still the best first method to use, simply choose what ‘ice’ you want to use.
Most people will also use NSAIDs, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug such as ibuprofen, to manage the pain and swelling. You should consult with your doctor before using this type of medication as these types of drugs, although found to be effective for pain management, can slow down the healing process of tendons of ligaments. According to the FDA, long-term use of NSAIDs is not recommended because it has been shown to cause damage our kidneys, cause stomach ulcers and increase your chances of strokes and heart attacks.
If you want to use anti inflammatory capsules for longer than a short period of time for your injury and future flare ups, then an herbal anti inflammatory is recommended. Even pharmaceutical companies are looking to patent certain herbs to use and anti-inflammatory agents and more importantly natural pain relief. Make sure your herbal anti-inflammatory includes the latest researched herbs:
- Medical Grade Turmeric AKA Jiang Huang
- Corydalis / Yan Hu Suo
- Bushy Knotweed / Hu Zhang
Avoid buying ‘spices’ and instead look for medical grade Chinese herbs or use a reputable Chinese Herb companies anti-inflammatory formula.
Eat Lots of Fruits and Vegetables:
Unfortunately, tendon and ligament injuries can linger and become problematic. This is because tendons and ligaments are low vascularized tissues, meaning they do not have much of a blood supply. It takes a long time for nutrients to arrive and feed these tissues, compared to a muscle that has large blood supplies. Since there is difficulty in getting nutrients to the injury site, you may want to consider enhancing your diet to increase needed nutrients.
Vitamin C has shown to help tendons heal faster. In a study published by the US National Library of Medicine, “High-dose vitamin C supplementation accelerates the Achilles tendon healing in healthy rats” collagen growth was found to be “more evident on the third day in the vitamin C group” and “significant difference between the control group and vitamin C groups, on the tenth day”. Before you rush out and buy all the vitamin C, consider improving your diet with fresh vegetables and fruits already high in it, such as kale, oranges, broccoli, and strawberries. Your body needs a variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to function and heal properly, so you may be better off upgrading the nutrients it already needs.
Supplementing your diet is another way to get some nutrients, increase circulation, and help heal tendons and ligaments faster. Chinese herbs are simply high potency foods. Even an avid vegetarian can find themselves with long long healing times for their sinew (tendon and ligament) injuries. Using external and internal supplements to mend your tendons is a well studied way to heal 40%-60% faster.
Consider these herbs for tendon / ligament healing, strengthening, support, etc:
- Eucommia Bark / Du Zhong
- Medical Grade Cinnamon Twig / Gui Zhi (not spice cinnamon)
- Lycopodium / Shen Jin Cao
Additionally Dimmak Herbs has a variety of products aimed at improving the health of and healing of tendons and ligaments. We offer anti-inflammatory products as well as specific tendon and ligament healing products. Our external Ageless Sinew Liniment is helpful for direct treatment and pain relief. Internally capsules for faster healing include our Tendon Mending Pills, a formula with a name that says exactly what it does.