The function of the ligaments is to stabilize the joints by strengthening the articular capsules. Ligaments are tough, dense connective tissues consisting of collagenous fibers which connect bones to other bones to form a joint. Bones and muscles are connected by tendons and not ligaments. Tendons are inelastic while ligaments are elastic by nature. Ligaments get torn when a joint is overstretched or twisted. Those who play sports, for example football and hockey players, skaters, etc., are more likely to suffer from this problem of a torn ligament.
If the ligaments are stretched or if they lengthen too much, then the joint may become weak. A double-jointed person or a person with hyperlaxity has more elastic ligaments. Every ruptured ligament does not require a surgery. Athletes, dancers, gymnasts, and martial artists are more prone to ligament injuries. They try to lengthen their ligaments by performing stretching exercises, as they require more flexible joints. Ligament injury in the ankle and knee is quite common. A ruptured ligament can result in an instability of the joint which can in turn lead to the deterioration of cartilage and eventually to osteoarthritis.
Possible Situations that Can Cause the Ligament to Tear
- You have a bad fall
- You lift an object which is too heavy
- You suffer a whiplash
- You twist your knee or ankle
- You sprain a ligament
- A cracking or snapping sound when a ligament is torn
- Bruising, swelling, and pain with pressure on the joint
- Restricted movement of the joint
- A dent at the joint where the ligament is torn
- Joint pain
- Feeling of numbness and tingling
- Referred pain at some place away from the affected joint
- Inflammation of the joint
Treating a Torn Ligament
- Cover the joint with an elastic bandage.
- Avoid indulging in sports which require quick, strenuous movements.
- Apply ice packs to relieve the pain.
- Keep the injured region in an elevated position.
- Compression dressings, bandages, or splints can provide relief to the injury.
- Provide sufficient rest to the injured region for a few weeks, and you can get back to doing normal physical activities within 8 to 12 weeks.
- Another technique known as 'prolotherapy' is somewhat painful, but considered to be extremely safe for treating a ruptured ligament. It is a technique in which drugs, that stimulate the production of new collagen fibers, are injected at the fibro-osseous junction, which results in an inflammation. It is effective in reducing the pain of an abnormal joint movement or ligament laxity.
- RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) therapy is beneficial when the magnitude of injury is minimum.
Classification of Ligament Sprains
Ligament sprains are classified according to the severity of the ligament tear.
- If there is minimum stretching or tearing of the ligament with a first degree sprain, then it can lead to mild pain, difficulty in walking, tenderness, and swelling. With no bruising or loss of function, recovery time is 4 to 6 weeks.
- When there is a second degree sprain, you may experience a tearing sensation, pop, or snap. Symptoms like swelling and tenderness in the joint are noticed. Bruising may begin 3 to 4 days after the injury. Difficulty in joint movement may be noticed. Recovery time is 4 to 8 weeks.
- Joint dislocation may be noticed at the time of injury in a third degree sprain. The joint may come back to its place, but there can be massive swelling, severe tenderness, and instability in the joint. Movement of the joint may not be possible. In this case, surgery may be necessary. Recovery time is 6 to 12 weeks.
Severe joint sprains need prompt medical care, and you should consult the doctor with the x-ray and other reports to confirm that there is no fracture. Foot ligament injury is common in athletes or dancers, while shoulder ligament injury is common in carpenters, weightlifters, etc. If you fall on your arm, there are chances of injuring the ligaments in the wrist or finger. An accidental injury may also lead to a ruptured ligament. Neglecting the symptoms of a ruptured ligament can eventually result in a restricted movement of the joint. You should know 'how to treat a sprain' if you love sports.
Accidental injuries which cause ligament strains are usually healed by a familiar process called inflammation. This process includes various phases, but at the end collagen is produced in order to form the threads of a new ligament. After losing water, collagen shrinks and becomes shorter. It then pulls the two ends of the ligament together. Thus, a torn ligament is repaired naturally. Due to some reasons, if this process is not successfully completed, the joint remains in an abnormal position resulting in pain, numbness, and muscle spasms.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.