A ligament is a band
of fibrous tissue that connects bone to bone, supporting
or strengthening a joint, or preventing it from moving
in the wrong direction. They are a vital part of the structure
of our entire skeleton, and are present in every joint.
Ligaments do not connect muscles to bone, which is the
function of tendons. Ligaments are slightly elastic so
that they stretch slightly with the movement of the joint.
Athletes perform stretching exercises, which make their
joints more supple. People who are “double jointed”
have very elastic ligaments which allow their joints to
stretch and contort further than normal.
Ligaments also support many internal organs, including
the uterus, the bladder, the liver, and the diaphragm
and help in shaping and supporting the breasts.
If ligaments are put under prolonged tension, they can
actually lengthen, which is one reason why a dislocated
joint must be returned to its normal position as quickly
as possible, to prevent lasting damage to the ligaments.
Unlike many other structures in the human body, ligaments
cannot generally heal themselves. For this reason, for
those patients whose damaged joint continues to give way
after the injury and who do not respond to conservative
treatment such as physiotherapy or a brace, the ligament
often has to be reconstructed.