What are Ligaments?

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Ligaments are an incredible part of your body that are literally responsible for holding it together. Find out what ligaments are and what they do, here.

Ligaments are a truly underappreciated part of your body. Coming from the Latin word for ‘ligare’ which means bind or tie, ligaments help to maintain stability for a range of body parts including bones, joints and even internal organs.

Keep reading to find out all you need to know about these incredible tissues, including what ligaments are and how they work.

What are ligaments?

annotated image of a ligamentLigaments are very tough bands of fibrous connective tissues. Ligaments can be very different to each other in appearance, some are wide bands, others are narrow and some can even be arch shaped. Think of a ligament like a rope, tying things such as bones together, stabilising the joints in between and preventing the bones from twisting or becoming too far apart and becoming dislocated.

What do ligaments do?

The function of most ligaments is to connect bone to bone, support your joints and limit movement. You’ll find ligaments in many places throughout your body including your knees, ankles, elbows, shoulders and other joints too. They don’t just connect bones though; another important thing ligaments do is to keep internal organs in place. One example of this is that the womb is held in the correct position in the pelvis by ligaments. On top of this, ligaments can also connect two organs together and your liver, intestine and stomach are all held in place by the ligaments in your abdominal cavity.

woman stretching with headphones inLigaments will often have sensitive structures running through them such as blood vessels or gland ducts. The strong, connective tissues of the ligaments protect these structures and prevent damage that occurs as a result of bending, twisting or tearing.

To get a clearer picture of what ligaments do, we’re going to take a look at the main joints in your body to see just how clever these little tissues are.

Knee ligaments

There are four major knee ligaments that connect your thighbone (femur) to your shinbones (tibia), these are as follows:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
  • Medial cruciate ligament (MCL)
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)

The ACL and PCL both sit in the centre of your knee. The ACL is located at the front and controls the forward movement and rotation of the shinbone. The PCL is towards the back and controls the backward movement of the shinbone. The MCL is found inside of your knee and provides stability, whereas the LCL is outside and keeps the area around it stable.

Elbow ligaments

There are three main ligaments in your elbows:

  • Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL)
  • Radial collateral ligament (RCL)
  • Annular ligament (AL)

The UCL connects your upper arm bone (humerus) to your forearm bone (ulna), this runs along the side of the elbow. The RCL connects the humerus to the outer forearm bone (radius) and crosses the ulna to provide additional support. The AL then circles the top of the radius bone and holds it against the ulna.

Shoulder ligamentsdiagram of shoulder ligaments

Some of the most important ligaments in your shoulder are:

  • Glenohumeral ligaments (GHL)
  • Coraco-acrominal ligament (CAL)
  • Coraco-clavicular ligaments (CCL)
  • Transverse humeral ligament (THL)

The GHL are possibly the most important ligaments in your shoulder as they’re its main source of stability. There are superior, middle and inferior glenohumeral ligaments and they hold the shoulder in place and prevent dislocation.

The CAL links the coracoid (hook shaped bone structure on the edge of the shoulder) to the acromion (the highest point of the shoulder).

The CCL is made up of two ligaments, the trapezoid and conoid and these attach the clavicle coracoid process of the shoulder blade. Although tiny, these ligaments help to keep the shoulder blade attached to the clavicle.

The THL is responsible for holding the tendon of the biceps brachii muscle in the groove between the greater and lesser tubercle located on the humerus.

Ankle ligaments

Your ankle has several important ligaments which are:

  • Anterior talofibular ligament (ATL)
  • Posterior talofibular ligament (PTL)
  • Calcaneofibular ligament (CL)
  • Deltoid ligament (DL)

The ATL, PTL and CL are all located on the outside of your ankle and begin on the thin bone outside your shinbone (fibula). The CL connects the fibular to the heel bone, whereas the ATL and PTL connect the bone between the heel and shinbone (talus) to the fibula outside the ankle.

On the outside, the DL connects the tibia to the bones on the inside of the foot to the navicular bone to provide support.

Now you know what ligaments are and what they do! Want to find out more about your amazing body? Check out our article on what cartilage is and what it does, next.












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