Structure of the tendon connective tissue

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2000 Dec;10(6):312-20. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0838.2000.010006312.x.


Tendons consist of collagen (mostly type I collagen) and elastin embedded in a proteoglycan-water matrix with collagen accounting for 65-80% and elastin approximately 1-2% of the dry mass of the tendon. These elements are produced by tenoblasts and tenocytes, which are the elongated fibroblasts and fibrocytes that lie between the collagen fibers, and are organized in a complex hierarchical scheme to form the tendon proper. Soluble tropocollagen molecules form cross-links to create insoluble collagen molecules which then aggregate progressively into microfibrils and then into electronmicroscopically clearly visible units, the collagen fibrils. A bunch of collagen fibrils forms a collagen fiber, which is the basic unit of a tendon. A fine sheath of connective tissue called endotenon invests each collagen fiber and binds fibers together. A bunch of collagen fibers forms a primary fiber bundle, and a group of primary fiber bundles forms a secondary fiber bundle. A group of secondary fiber bundles, in turn, forms a tertiary bundle, and the tertiary bundles make up the tendon. The entire tendon is surrounded by a fine connective tissue sheath called epitenon. The three-dimensional ultrastructure of tendon fibers and fiber bundles is complex. Within one collagen fiber, the fibrils are oriented not only longitudinally but also transversely and horizontally. The longitudinal fibers do not run only parallel but also cross each other, forming spirals. Some of the individual fibrils and fibril groups form spiral-type plaits. The basic function of the tendon is to transmit the force created by the muscle to the bone, and, in this way, make joint movement possible. The complex macro- and microstructure of tendons and tendon fibers make this possible. During various phases of movements, the tendons are exposed not only to longitudinal but also to transversal and rotational forces. In addition, they must be prepared to withstand direct contusions and pressures. The above-described three-dimensional internal structure of the fibers forms a buffer medium against forces of various directions, thus preventing damage and disconnection of the fibers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Collagen / ultrastructure
  • Connective Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Connective Tissue / metabolism
  • Elastic Tissue / anatomy & histology
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Glycosaminoglycans / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / ultrastructure
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Tendons / anatomy & histology*
  • Tendons / cytology
  • Tendons / metabolism


  • Glycoproteins
  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Proteoglycans
  • Collagen