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Ligament Injuries

Dr. Matt Brown
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What are ligament injuries?

Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bone to bone or bone to cartilage, enabling joint movement. However, impact or overuse can cause the ligament to become injured, resulting in impaired mobility and severe pain. The most commonly injured joint ligaments are in the ankles, knees, and wrists.

When a ligament is stretched but not torn, it’s called a sprain. When it’s torn, however, the injury tends to be much more severe. Sprains and tears both frequently occur during athletic activities, when the ligaments are placed under increased stress. Physical therapy is a front-line treatment for both sprains and tears, although tears often require surgery before any physical therapy can be started.

Source: VeryWellHealth

Ligament injury symptoms

Ligament injuries are graded on a scale of I to III. Grade I refers to stretching of the ligament or a very small tear, resulting in little to no instability. Grade II injuries are more serious, though still not complete tears. Finally, grade III injuries are completely torn or ruptured ligaments, which often can’t support any weight at all.

Depending on the severity of the injury, pain can range from mild to severe. Most patients will experience swelling, inflammation, and sometimes bruising. It is common for patients to favor the uninjured joint or even be completely unable to move the injured joint.

The most common symptoms of ligament injuries include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Inflammation
  • Loss of mobility

Source: WebMD

What causes ligament injuries?

Because ligament injuries are likely to occur due to a sudden impact, stop, or twist, they happen frequently during participation in sports or other activities that put increased stress on the knees, ankles, or wrists. Soccer, football, basketball, gymnastics, and downhill skiing are all considered relatively high-risk activities.

In addition, females appear to be at greater risk of tearing a ligament. Patients can otherwise place themselves at heightened risk by wearing footwear that doesn’t fit properly or using poorly-maintained or improper sporting equipment.

The most common causes of ligament injuries include:

  • Sudden stops or changes in direction
  • Twisting motions
  • Direct blows to the joint

Source: MayoClinic

Physical therapy for ligament injuries

Regardless of the severity, ligament injuries cannot be cured with rest alone. Physical therapy and surgery are typically the most-recommended treatment options. Physical therapy can help to improve joint movement, relieve pain, and prevent permanent damage to the ligament. PT can also return patients to peak form after surgery or even help them to avoid surgery altogether.

A therapist will likely use a mix of techniques tailored to the patient’s specific condition and personal needs. PT for ligament injuries tends to involve a mix of pain relief methods, coordination tasks, strength exercises, and stretching routines.

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