Tendon Injury or Ligament Injury? Can You Tell?

In this picture, tendons are running on top of the fingers except for the little finger, which shows the bone and the ligaments (much smaller and on the sides of the joints).

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

My mother used to love to tell the story about when I was an infant and I kept complaining that my heel was hurting. She looked and looked but couldn’t find anything wrong. Finally she figured out I was talking about my hip, not my heel.

It’s important to know your anatomy when you’re dealing with an injury. I’m guessing you know the difference between your hip and your heel, but what about a ligament versus a tendon?

If you understand what lies beneath the skin, not only will you have a better idea of what’s going on—and be able to communicate that to others—but you’ll also have a better idea of how to treat it. Also, if a computer or book—Living Ready Pocket Manual: First Aid :-)—is handy, you’ll be able to go right to the information needed.

Here are some definitions from my Living Ready book:

Ligament: A strong strip of fibrous tissue that attaches one bone to another bone to hold them together.

Tendon: A strong strip of fibrous tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone, usually crossing over a joint. When the muscle contracts or relaxes, the joint moves.

Now, here’s your challenge: Imagine the stuff has finally hit the fan, or if you’d prefer, you’re on a long camping trip, whatever. The point is expert advice is not available, and a doctor is out of the question. Anyway, you’re playing with your trusty knife, it slips, and you cut the top of your index finger, say just beyond the knuckle. And now your middle joint looks like a teepee. You can straighten it out if you use your other hand, but try as you might, it goes right back to a teepee when you let go. What’s likely causing the finger to stay bent? What should you do?

Click here to read what I think.


Photo: Flickr/EUSKALANATO.