Ligaments are connective tissues that connect bones together. They give the skeletal system its structure. Ligaments control the amount of movement between bones.
In the human body, about 900 ligaments connect different bones.
Ligaments are made of collagen fibers. Collagen is a kind of structural protein that gives strength and structure to different parts of your body, including your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and skin.
Collagen fibers that run parallel to each other are bundled up to provide strength to the ligaments.
Ligaments were once assumed to be fixed in their positions. The latest researches suggest that ligaments respond to various internal and external factors that can improve/worsen their function.
Importance Of Strengthening Your Ligaments
The name ligament comes from the Latin word ‘ligare .’ Ligare means to tie-up or to bind.
Think of ligaments like strong ropes. These tie-up bones and joints in place and prevent them from getting twisted or dislocated.
Ligaments are very important for painless and comfortable movement. While most ligaments connect and hold together bones, few other ligaments hold together other body parts and organs.
- Organs like the liver, stomach, and intestines are held together by ligaments to the abdominal cavity.
- The womb is kept in place in the pelvis using ligaments.
- Teeth are attached to the alveolar bone using ligaments.
Irrespective of whether ligaments hold together bones, joints, or other organs, strong ligaments are important for the stability of the body. Weak or damaged ligaments can cause increased risks of injuries, pain, and frequent dislocations of bones.
Ligamentous laxity is a condition that causes loose ligaments. Your ligaments may not have enough strength to hold together bones and organs.
A very common example of ligamentous laxity is flat feet, medically known as pes planus. Here, the arch of the feet does not hold up when standing. This causes pain and discomfort, especially when you are standing or walking for a long time.
Here are some of the symptoms of weakened ligaments to look out for.
Tingling sensations around joints
- Pain and numbness
- Frequent dislocations of bones
- Muscle spasms
- Hypermobility (the ability to move/stretch beyond the normal range of motion)
How Does Genetics Influence Ligament Strength
COL1A1 Gene and Ligament Strength
The COL1A1 gene is called the flexibility gene and helps produce type I collagen in the body. Reduced collagen production can lead to weakened ligaments.
An SNP in the COL1A1 gene, rs1800012, can cause changes in ligament strength. According to a study, people with the TT genotype had a lowered risk for ligament injury. However, no such effects were seen in the GT and GG genotypes. The study concluded that people with the TT genotype have reduced risks for ligament injuries. Those with GG and GT genotypes have no such protection.
Another meta-analysis that combined the results of 4 individual studies also concluded that those with TT genotype have extra protection against ligament injuries.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Ligament Strength
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) causes extremely flexible joints and skin and results in loose and weakened ligaments. People with this syndrome have a condition called hypermobility that increases the range of motion of their joints.
About 100 types of polymorphisms in the COL5A1 gene are identified in people with EDS.
Marfan Syndrome and Ligament Strength
Marfan syndrome is an inherited disorder that affects the connective tissues, including ligaments. It reduces the elasticity of the ligaments.
The FBN1 gene encodes a protein called fibrillin-1. Fibrillin molecules bind to the nearby proteins and each other to make elastic fibers. These fibers make ligaments.
There are about 1300 mutations in the FBN1 gene that can result in Marfan syndrome.
Non-genetic Factors Affecting Ligament Strength
*Age - As you grow older, collagen production in the body reduces. This can weaken ligaments and increase your chance of injuries.
Gender - Research suggests that women have higher risks for certain types of ligament injuries in sports than men.
Accidents and injuries - If you have had an accident or an injury, you may have damaged the ligaments, leading to decreased ligament strength.
Recommendations To Improve Ligament Strength
Exercises - There are many exercises aimed at improving muscle strength and making you stronger. You can tweak these exercises to increase your ligament strength too. By decreasing your range of motion using weights, you can strengthen your ligaments.
Short-range motion exercises cause quick stretching and shortening of the muscles.
- Tricep press while lying down
- Push press behind the neck
- Leg extensions and leg curls
- Stretching and flexibility exercises
Balanced diet - If weakened ligaments result from decreased collagen production in the body, you can improve collagen production by including these foods in your diet.
- Bone broth
- Egg white
- Red and yellow colored fruits and vegetables
- Citrus fruits
Adequate sleep - If you are not sleeping for at least 7 hours every night, the body’s collagen production is lowered. This can put unwanted stress on your ligaments and result in increased risks of injuries and pain. Change your lifestyle to sleep 7-8 hours a day, and your ligaments will get stronger naturally.
Strengthening supplements - According to a study, the consumption of vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplements before working out can double up collagen production in the body. This can improve your ligament strength gradually.
- Ligaments are fibers that connect bone to other bones and connective tissues, preventing them from moving beyond their allowed range of motion.
- Ligaments are very important for the stability of the body. Weakened or loose ligaments can cause increased risks for bone dislocation and pain.
- Variations in the COL1A1 gene can affect ligament strength. The T allele of rs180012 (an SNP in the COL1A1 gene) plays a protective role against ligament-related injuries.
- About 100 different variations of the COL1A1 gene have been associated with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS leads to weakened/loose ligaments and a condition called hypermobility. Variations in the FBN1 gene can cause an inherited disorder called Marfan syndrome. This syndrome results in loose ligaments and other connecting tissues.
- Age, gender, and certain accidents and injuries can also lead to the weakening of the ligaments.
- Exercises help in strengthening ligaments. Including collagen-producing foods, opting for supplements that increase collagen production in the body, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep a day can all help keep your ligaments strong.