Ever wondered how to strengthen your ligaments and tendons? These body parts are vastly important and need the right diet and exercise to be strong and healthy.
What are your ligaments and tendons
You may be an expert on ligaments and tendons, (if so, feel free to skip this part,) or you may know next to nothing about them. Generally, people don’t give too much thought to the ligaments or tendons that are preventing their entire body from collapsing. It’s easy to overlook them in our busy movement-filled lives. But, without tendons and ligaments all those countless movements our body does would not be possible. And that’s why it’s important to strengthen them.
Before we dive into that, let’s review. What are ligaments and tendons?
Ligaments are strong, flexible connective tissue that connects a bone to another bone. Your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is an example of a ligament that is in your knee, connecting your thighbone to your shinbone. A ligament helps bones stay attached and not move too much out of place. Without ligaments bones would twist and move around, and often become dislocated. Ligaments help hold them together.
Tendons are also strong connective tissue, but instead of bone to bone they help connect bones to muscle. An example of a tendon would be the Achilles tendon- which connects the heel bone to the calf muscle. Your tendons are essential to body movement. Every time your muscle contracts your tendons transmit that force to the bone, moving the bone as well. Every thing from lifting weights, running, and doing push-ups to typing on the computer, coloring a picture, or knitting a scarf use your tendons to help your muscles, bones, and body move in the way you want them to.
Ligaments and tendons also have a slight elasticity to them which acts like a rubber band effect, allowing them to take on heavy loads or movement (like running, jumping, or lifting heavy weights,) and bounce back to their pre-stretched form easily.
Even just sitting down in a chair requires your ligaments and tendons to help your body in a sitting position. They are pretty important for your body’s movement, give your body stability, and hold your muscles and bones together. Your ligaments and tendons can get injured, from aging or overuse, or they may become weakened. It’s important to strengthen your ligaments as well to prevent injuries from happening.
How to strengthen ligaments and tendons
There are a lot of things you can do to help your ligaments and tendons stay strong and effective. Let’s start with diet- just like muscles are built in the kitchen, so are ligaments and tendons.
Tendons and ligaments are mostly made up of water and collagen. (Anywhere from 65-80% type one collagen.)
The most important nutrient that tendons and ligaments need is protein, in order to build up their strength. Supplementing with collagen may be a good idea but your body does make collagen on it’s own already, so make sure to also eat a balanced diet full of amino acids- especially the essential amino acids that your body doesn’t make on its own.
Many vitamins and supplements are also great for strengthening ligaments and tendons.
Vitamin C is important for collagen production and preventing muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons from weakening. Get a diet full of vitamin c rich fruits and vegetables such as oranges, strawberries, broccoli, and peppers.
Vitamin A is also important for collagen renewal, as well as strengthening and promoting the elasticity of the tendons and ligaments. Foods rich in vitamin A are egg yolks, fatty fish, and leafy greens.
Vitamin E reduces inflammation, which can help in a tendon or ligament injury. Vitamin E can be found in wheat germ, eggs, fish, and nuts.
Other supplements that can help with tendons and ligaments include calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Supplementing with fish oil pills, or eating foods high in Omega 3s can also help with ligaments and tendons, enhancing collagen formation, and helping with tendon, ligament, and joint pain.
Training your tendons and ligaments is just as important as working out your muscles for strength and endurance. Keeping your tendons and ligaments in shape will help you to keep everything else in shape as well. Healthy and strong ligaments and tendons will actually increase your energy, power, resilience, and performance. Tendons and ligaments are conduits for your muscles to shine.
Tendons and ligaments don’t have blood vessels that travel through them, resulting in a low blood supply that makes them take longer to heal, and longer for them to respond to training. In some cases it takes weeks or months for training to improve tendon and ligament strength, but don’t let that deter you. Exercising your tendons and ligaments, especially everyday will make them stronger and prevent injury.
Using your tendons and ligaments- putting stress on them (not too much to harm them, but enough to get them to stretch and adapt) is the way to strengthen them. Children often have stronger tendons and ligaments because they are constantly moving. Adults may not always be able to move around that much, especially at a desk job, but there are exercises to help strengthen your tendons and ligaments, specifically surrounding:
Especially with a deep longer stretch, stretching is a great way to move your tendons and strengthen them and is an important part of increasing their “stiffness” (a good thing in this case) or strength. Yoga can also be very beneficial to move your tendons and ligaments and help stretch them out.
Eccentric exercise (the downward-lengthening-of-muscle-slower type of exercise) puts a greater load on the tendon or ligament, working similarly like stretching in training the tendon and ligament to be stronger.
Ligament and Tendon injuries
Tendons and ligaments can get injured from twisting the tendon or ligament into an awkward position, weakness, age, or overuse. Tendinitis happens when a tendon becomes inflamed. Strains are when damage occurs to a tendon or muscle it is connected to. And sprains happen when a ligament is over stretched and torn. Some of these injuries are mild and are easy to heal, others are more painful and may even require surgery.
If you feel pain from exercising or if there is a popping sound stop what you are doing, and if needed get help from a doctor. Ice, elevating the affected area, and rest can help tendon and ligaments heal. If they don’t heal on their own you may need to seek medical attention.