Ligaments are a part of the skeletal system's joint structure. A joint gives movement between two bones whilst a ligament assists in attaching the two bones together. Ligaments are found in areas of the skeletal system where two bones connect, which is called "articulation". Ligaments are strong fibrous tissue that withstand tension and keep bones together even during rigorous exercise.
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Ligaments are similar to tendons except they connect bone to bone instead of bone to muscle. The structure is made of collagen fibres and elastin. The collagen fibres are packed together to give them the ability to withstand tension. When the body moves rigorously, the ligaments need to hold bone together without breaking. Elastin enables the ligament to stretch, giving the bones flexibility.
The function of the ligaments are to hold the bones together. Joints are often thought to be the part of the bone that connects separate bone structures. However, ligaments are a part of the joint structure and instead give the bone movement during contraction of the muscle. Ligaments are adjacent to the joint that holds the bone in place.
Injury to ligaments occur from a tear or strain in the tissue. An injury to the ligaments doesn't always cause pain. Some patients hear a pop or feel the joint dislodge. The most common injury is in the knee. Patients who play sports or rigorous exercise might tear or strain the knee ligament, requiring repair and surgery. Without treatment, the patient may later feel pain and inflammation.
Diagnosis of a ligament injury is done by a medical professional. X-rays are taken of the patient's injury to visually detect any ligament tears or breakage. MRIs may be ordered to verify any diagnosis. MRIs are used to detect any surrounding damage or disease that might be the underlying cause for ligament damage. Detailed images are taken by a CT scan, which combines an X-ray with digital imaging.
Treatment and prevention
Treatment for torn ligaments may require surgery. The patient is given local anaesthetics and the ligaments are sewn together. To prevent further damage to ligaments, especially after previous damage, the patient is given a brace. For instance, injury to the knee may require a brace to keep movement of the knee and its associated ligament at a minimum. Ice packs and medication are used to control swelling and inflammation.
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