A tendon (or sinew) is a tough band of fibrous connective tissue that usually connects muscle to bone and is capable of withstanding tension. Tendons are similar to ligaments except that ligaments join one bone to another. Tendons and muscles work together and can only exert a pulling force.
Blood vessels may be visualized within the endotendon running parallel to collagen fibers, with occasional branching transverse anastomoses.
The internal tendon bulk is thought to contain no nerve fibers, but the epi- and peritendon contain nerve endings, while Golgi tendon organs are present at the junction between tendon and muscle.
Tendon length varies in all major groups and from person to person. Tendon length is practically the discerning factor where muscle size and potential muscle size is concerned. For example, should all other relevant biological factors be equal, a man with a shorter tendons and a longer biceps muscle will have greater potential for muscle mass than a man with a longer tendon and a shorter muscle. Successful bodybuilders will generally have shorter tendons. Conversely, in sports requiring athletes to excel in actions such as running or jumping, it is beneficial to have longer than average Achilles tendon and a shorter calf muscle.
Tendon length is determined by genetic predisposition, and has not been shown to either increase or decrease in response to environment, unlike muscles which can be shortened by trauma, use imbalances and a lack of recovery and stretching.
Tendons have been traditionally considered to simply be a mechanism by which muscles connect to bones, functioning simply to transmit forces. However, over the past two decades, much research has focused on the elastic properties of tendons and their ability to function as springs. This allows tendons to passively modulate forces during locomotion, providing additional stability with no active work. It also allows tendons to store and recover energy at high efficiency. For example, during a human stride, the Achilles tendon stretches as the ankle joint dorsiflexes. During the last portion of the stride, as the foot plantar-flexes (pointing the toes down), the stored elastic energy is released. Furthermore, because the tendon stretches, the muscle is able to function with less or even no change in length, allowing the muscle to generate greater force.
Tendinosis refers to non-inflammatory injury to the tendon at the cellular level.
The Achilles tendon is a particularly large tendon connecting the heel to the muscles of the calf. It is so named because the mythic hero Achilles was said to have been killed due to an injury to this area.
Sinew was also widely used throughout pre-industrial eras as a tough, durable fiber. Some specific uses include using sinew as thread for sewing, attaching feathers to arrows (see fletch), lashing tool blades to shafts, etc. It also recommended in survival guides as a material from which strong cordage can be made for items like traps or living structures. Tendon must be treated in specific ways to function usefully for these purposes. Inuit and other circumpolar people utilized sinew as the only cordage for all domestic purposes due to the lack of other suitable fiber sources in their ecological habitats.
The elastic properties of particular sinews were also used in composite recurved bows favoured by the steppe nomads of Eurasia. The first stone throwing artillery also used the elastic properties of sinew.
Tendon (particularly beef tendon) is used as a food in some Asian cuisines (often served at Yum Cha or Dim Sum restaurants). One popular dish is Suan Bao Niu Jin, where the tendon is marinated in garlic. It is also sometimes found in the Vietnamese noodle dish phở.