Tension (mechanics)
In physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, tension is the magnitude of the pulling force exerted by a string, cable, chain, or similar object on another object. It is the opposite of compression. As tension is the magnitude of a force
In physics, a force is any influence that causes an object to undergo a change in speed, a change in direction, or a change in shape. In other words, a force is that which can cause an object with mass to change its velocity , i.e., to accelerate, or which can cause a flexible object to deform...

, it is measured in newtons (or sometimes pounds-force) and is always measured parallel to the string on which it applies. There are two basic possibilities for systems of objects held by strings: Either acceleration is zero and the system is therefore in equilibrium, or there is acceleration and therefore a net force is present. Note that a string is assumed to have negligible mass.

System in equilibrium

A system is in equilibrium when the sum of all forces is zero.

For example, consider a system consisting of an object that is being lowered vertically by a string with tension, T, at a constant velocity. The system has a constant velocity and is therefore in equilibrium because the tension in the string (which is pulling up on the object) is equal to the force of gravity, mg, which is pulling down on the object.

System under net force

A system has a net force when an unbalanced force is exerted on it, in other words the sum of all forces is not zero. Acceleration and net force always exist together.

For example consider the same system as above but suppose the object is now being lowered with an increasing velocity downwards (positive acceleration) therefore there exists a net force somewhere in the system. In this case negative acceleration would indicate that .

In another example, suppose that two bodies A and B having masses and respectively are connected with each other by an inextensible string over a frictionless pulley. There are two forces acting on the body A: its weight () pulling down, and the tension in the string pulling up. If body A has greater mass than body B, . Therefore, the net force on body A is , so .

Strings in modern physics

String-like objects in relativistic
Special relativity
Special relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...

 theories, such as the strings
QCD string
In quantum chromodynamics, , if a connection which is colour confining occurs, it is possible for stringlike degrees of freedom called QCD strings or QCD flux tubes to form...

 used in some models of interactions between quarks, or those used in the modern string theory
String theory
String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

, also possess tension. These strings are analyzed in terms of their world sheet, and the energy is then typically proportional to the length of the string. As a result, the tension in such strings is independent of the amount of stretching.

In an extensible string, Hooke's law
Hooke's law
In mechanics, and physics, Hooke's law of elasticity is an approximation that states that the extension of a spring is in direct proportion with the load applied to it. Many materials obey this law as long as the load does not exceed the material's elastic limit. Materials for which Hooke's law...


See also

  • continuum mechanics
    Continuum mechanics
    Continuum mechanics is a branch of mechanics that deals with the analysis of the kinematics and the mechanical behavior of materials modelled as a continuous mass rather than as discrete particles...

  • compression (physical)
  • Stress
  • Tensile strength
    Tensile strength
    Ultimate tensile strength , often shortened to tensile strength or ultimate strength, is the maximum stress that a material can withstand while being stretched or pulled before necking, which is when the specimen's cross-section starts to significantly contract...

  • Surface tension
    Surface tension
    Surface tension is a property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force. It is revealed, for example, in floating of some objects on the surface of water, even though they are denser than water, and in the ability of some insects to run on the water surface...

  • Fall factor
    Fall factor
    In climbing, using a dynamic rope, the fall factor f is the ratio of the height h a climber falls before the climber's rope begins to stretch and the rope length L available to absorb the energy of the fall....

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