Ligaments are bands of strong, flexible tissue that connect bones together throughout the body. They allow movement between bones, which allows you to do things like flex your foot or move your fingers. When ligaments are stretched or strained beyond normal capacity, they can tear. There are three grades of ligament injury: grade 1, a mild ligament tear; grade 2, a moderate ligament tear, and grade 3, a complete ligament tear, otherwise known as a rupture.
How ligaments tear
Common causes of ligament tears are twisting body parts or hard or awkward landings. Tears often happen when ligaments are stretched fully and then encounter some form of impact or trauma. Ankle sprains, a mild torn ligament in the ankle, can happen when you are walking or running, land awkwardly, and twist your ankle. The knee and ankle ligaments are more vulnerable to tearing because they are weight-bearing ligaments that are often under stress. People who engage in sports that involve full contact (like hockey and football) or many changes of direction (like basketball and tennis) are most susceptible to ligament injuries.
Common ligament injuries
Orthopedic specialists treat all sorts of ligament injures. Some of the more common ligament tears include:
- Knee ligament injuries, such as:
- ACL tear
- MCL or LCL sprain
- Patella (knee cap) dislocation
- Ankle ligament injuries, such as:
- Shoulder ligament injuries, such as:
- Wrist and hand ligament injuries, such as:
- Finger sprain or thumb sprain
- Spinal ligament injuries, such as:
- Neck sprain
- Back ligament sprain
- Text neck
Typical treatment plans for torn ligaments
If you have a mild ligament tear, like a minor ankle sprain, you may be able to treat it at home. Orthopedic doctors often recommend the RICE therapy protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation). However, for more severe tears, you should see a doctor who will examine you and perform some tests to make a diagnosis and offer the proper treatment.
The treatment plan for ligament tears will vary depending on the location of the tear, the severity of the injury, and your tolerance for different treatment options. You may need a cast or crutches, and you may even need surgery to repair the torn ligament. After surgery or immobilization, you may require physical therapy and rehabilitation to get back to your pre-injury condition.
While some ligament tears are relatively minor, you shouldn’t take them lightly. Make sure to see your doctor right away if the pain and swelling don’t decrease within 24 to 72 hours, you cannot bear any weight on the affected body part, or your symptoms get worse.
The RICE therapy protocol
Rest: Don’t bear weight on the injured body part for at least one to two days, and don’t lift anything with an injured wrist, elbow, or shoulder.
Ice: Put ice or a cold pack on the injured area for 10 minutes every 30 minutes to an hour for the first two to three days. Use a damp, thin cloth to wrap the ice; don’t put ice directly on your skin.
Compression: Wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage or use a compression sleeve meant for your specific type of injury.
Elevation: Keep the injured area above the level of your heart. This is easiest to do if you lie down and either elevate your leg or arm slightly above you.
Beaumont’s Sports and Orthopedic Injury Clinics offer specialized treatment on a walk-in basis and you'll be able to get everything from same-day exams and imaging to surgical referrals and expedited access to specialists.
When to visit the clinic, as opposed to a Beaumont emergency center.
Long-term prognosis after tearing a ligament
The long-term prognosis for ligament tears with the proper treatment is good. Level 1 and level 2 sprains will often be fully recovered within three to eight weeks, meaning you should be able to return to your normal activities and have full mobility in that time. More severe injuries may take months to fully recover – especially if surgery and rehabilitation are necessary.
Connect with our orthopedic specialists
Whether you’re seeking help with an existing condition, you would like a diagnosis, or you are looking for help with recovery and rehabilitation after an injury, Beaumont has orthopedic specialists who offer the types of treatment and services you need.
If you have an injury to your bones or joints that needs to be cared for right away, contact your nearest Beaumont Emergency Center. We also have an Orthopedic Rehabilitation Clinic and a Physical Therapy Department to help you recover from orthopedic injuries.
Call us at 800-633-7377 to make an appointment, or request an appointment online.