I am often asked what is the difference between a tendon and a ligament. Ligaments are connected from bone to bone and give stability. Tendons are elastic tissues that start at the muscle belly and connect to the bone. The belly of the muscle is where the motor point is located; this is what is triggered when movement occurs. This happens in the middle of the muscle or at the bulkiest part of the muscle. The largest and strongest of these tendons in the foot is the Achilles tendon, it goes from the calf muscle to the heel. So, basically, tendons are used to move parts.
Many people feel as though ligaments are less important than tendons — FALSE! That’s like saying it is possible to have a house without walls. Ligaments hold tendons in place. There are more than 100 ligaments in the foot holding the 26 bones of the foot together. When ligaments are fixed with surgery they will heal within three weeks. Key word: FIXED. If ligaments are not surgically fixed, they NEVER REPAIR THEMSELVES. The severity and number of tears in the ligament will determine the extent of the injury, and should be evaluated when considering surgery.
Tendons can be either partially or fully torn. You may also hear of a torn tendon referred to as a ruptured tendon. Either condition will heal completely differently and they can repair themselves when pressure is taken off of them. However, each tendon varies in healing with or without surgery.
The main point is when you tear a ligament: DON’T IGNORE IT! When experiencing pain, see your doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause. If you have damaged a tendon or ligament you may experience swelling, bruising and the inability to put weight on the injury. You may also hear a pop or snap at the time of injury. A doctor will need to examine your range of motion and most likely take an MRI or X-ray to determine whether you have damaged a ligament or tendon.