Like most of you, I’d never given my ligaments a second thought (until now!). Most often, the focus of our physical bodies is the organs, muscles, + bones.
So, what are ligaments?
Ligaments are the connective tissue that connects bone to bone (similar to tendons, which connect muscle to bone). As Kat suggested, imagine ligaments as duct tape – they can be stretched + lengthened, but they aren’t meant to be, a.k.a. like muscles, ligaments can be ripped or torn (and like muscles, it is very painful!).
As with any element of our bodies, ligaments have many purposes, but a key one is ligaments are meant to protect the spine + other joints from too much movement (and therefore injury).
Are my ligaments just like my parents’/siblings’/best friend’s ligaments?
Maybe, but probably not. The world is full of an infinite variety of bodies. Some people are born with extra bones + others born with not enough. Some people are born with 1 hand or foot smaller than the other.
Similarly, our ligaments vary in length + flexibility, though people often fall into 1 of 2 categories (which could also be divided into varying degrees):
There is also a mid-range, but most people lean toward/fall into 1 category or the other, if only slightly.
Personally, I have longer ligaments, which means I am flexible + can work into some interesting Yoga poses … but that also means that holding a one-legged balancing pose can be very tough because my ligaments just want to stretch, stretch, stretch (instead of holding me steady)!
You know what that means? I need to do balancing + strength-developing poses to improve my physical stability. If you have shorter ligaments, then a greater focus on flexibility-centered poses is vital for your body.
What if I don’t do poses to help counteract the natural tendencies of my ligaments?
One word: injury. Like any healthy practice (such as not smoking + choosing what you eat), Yoga is about consistency. If you don’t consistently challenge your body, it will get stuck in a rut.
For shorter ligament folks, your range of motion will continue to decrease as you age + then, one day, you’ll challenge your range of motion (intentionally or not) and BAM! – you tear a ligament and/or a muscle, break a bone … etc.
For longer ligament folks, your range of motion may still be considerable as you age, but you’ll also still lack stability. Even if you exercise to maintain your flexibility, a lack of stability will make it easier for you to stretch your ligaments too far and BAM! – you tear a ligament and/or a muscle, break a bone … etc.
What happens if I injure a ligament?
A long road to recovery. Unlike muscles, ligaments have a very low to nearly zero regular supply of blood.
When injured, a continual supply of oxygenated blood helps to repair muscles. Without that supply of blood, ligaments take nearly 3x as long to heal as muscles do.
Gentle movement (within a comfortable/safe range of motion) during healing helps to bring that vital oxygenated blood to ligaments to help them heal – hello, Chair Yoga! :)