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In anatomy, the term ligament is used to denote three different types of structures:[1]

  1. Fibrous tissue that connects bones to other bones. They are sometimes called "articular ligaments"[2], "fibrous ligaments", or "true ligaments".
  2. A fold of peritoneum or other membrane
  3. The remnants of a tubular structure from the fetal period of life

The first meaning is most commonly what is meant by the term "ligament". After briefly discussing the other two types of ligaments, the remainder of this article will focus upon the first type.


Peritoneal ligaments

Certain folds of peritoneum are referred to as ligaments.

Examples include:

  • The hepatoduodenal ligament surrounds the hepatic portal vein and other vessels as they travel from the duodenum to the liver.
  • The broad ligament of the uterus is also a fold of peritoneum.
  • The suspensory ligament of the ovary

Fetal remnant ligaments

Certain tubular structures from the fetal period are referred to as ligaments after they close up and turn into cord-like structures:

Fetal Adult
ductus arteriosus ligamentum arteriosum
extra-hepatic portion of the fetal left umbilical vein ligamentum teres hepatis (the "round ligament of the liver").
intra-hepatic portion of the fetal left umbilical vein (the ductus venosus) ligamentum venosum
distal portions of the fetal left and right umbilical arteries medial umbilical ligaments

Articular ligaments

  In its most common use, a ligament is a short band of tough fibrous dense regular connective tissue composed mainly of long, stringy collagen fibres. Ligaments connect bones to other bones to form a joint. (They do not connect muscles to bones; that is the function of tendons.) Some ligaments limit the mobility of articulations, or prevent certain movements altogether.

Capsular ligaments are part of the articular capsule that surrounds synovial joints. They act as mechanical reinforcements. Extra-capsular ligaments join bones together and provide joint stability.

Ligaments are only elastic; when under tension, they gradually lengthen. (Unlike tendons which are inelastic). This is one reason why dislocated joints must be set as quickly as possible: if the ligaments lengthen too much, then the joint will be weakened, becoming prone to future dislocations. Athletes, gymnasts, dancers, and martial artists perform stretching exercises to lengthen their ligaments, making their joints more supple. The term double-jointed refers to people who have more elastic ligaments, allowing their joints to stretch and contort further. The medical term for describing such double-jointed persons is hyperlaxity and double-jointed is a synonym of hyperlax.

The study of ligaments is known as desmology.

The consequence of a broken ligament can be instability of the joint. Not all broken ligaments need surgery, but if surgery is needed to stabilise the joint, the broken ligament can be joined. Scar tissue may prevent this. If it is not possible to fix the broken ligament, other procedures such as the Brunelli Procedure can correct the instability. Instability of a joint can over time lead to wear of the cartilage and eventually to osteoarthritis.



  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL)
  • Cranial cruciate ligament (CrCL) - quadruped equivalent of ACL
  • Caudal cruciate ligament (CaCL) - quadruped equivalent of PCL

Head and neck


  • Anterior sacroiliac ligament
  • Posterior sacroiliac ligament
  • Sacrotuberous ligament
  • Sacrospinous ligament
  • Inferior pubic ligament
  • Superior pubic ligament
  • Suspensory ligament of the penis


  • Suspensory ligament of the breast



  1. ^ ligament at eMedicine Dictionary
  2. ^ l_09/12488504 at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ligament". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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