Ligaments are tough fibrous bands of connective tissue that support and connect adjoining bones together. These are strong, flexible structures that provide stability to the joints. The ligaments hold the bones together, in normal alignment, and prevent abnormal movements of the joint.
A ligament tear is an injury of the ligament as a result of excessive force or stress over the ligament. When the external force is higher than the inherent strength of the ligament, it may cause a ligament tear. The ankle, knee and wrist ligaments are more prone to injury.
The common causes of a ligament tear include severe stress over the ligament such as walking or running on uneven surfaces, hiking, exercising or any athletic activity, a fall or sudden twisting motion of the body. Sometimes a ligament tear can be a result of repetitive stress injury.
The symptoms of a ligament tear depend on the location of the damaged ligament and the severity of the condition. The nature and severity of symptoms helps evaluate the extent and grade of the injury. In partial tear of the ligament patients experience pain, swelling, bruising or difficulty in movement while a complete tear causes pain, swelling, bruising and loss of movement. Sometimes patients may experience instability or a giving way sensation in the joint, after a complete tear.
The diagnosis of a ligament tear begins with history and physical examination of the injured area. The location of injury and intensity of the pain determine the severity and nature of the injury. X-ray may be useful to rule out any injury or fracture of the involved bones. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to confirm the extent of soft tissue injury and to confirm the ligament tear.
The treatment for ligament tear depends on the involved joint and the severity of the injury. The treatment may be surgical or non-surgical.
The non-surgical treatment involves RICE therapy and medications along with the application of a cast or splint. The RICE therapy includes rest, ice, compression and elevation and may provide immediate relief. Pain relieving medications and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to relieve pain and inflammation. Sometime a cast or splint may be recommended to support and immobilize the affected region.
Surgical treatment may be required in severe conditions. The commonly used surgical treatments include ligament repair, reconstruction of the ligament or fusion of the involved bones.
Rehabilitation may be recommended after non-surgical or surgical treatment. Physical therapy along with a post-surgical splint or cast may be used for early recovery and prevention of a recurrence of the condition.