Ligament Injury – Prevention and Recovery

Our bodies are incredibly resilient, able to take a lot of bumps and bruises throughout our lives. Not all injuries are created equal, however, and it is important to know about your injury in order to best help your body through the recovery process. In this post, we will talk about another common injury for the body, a ligament injury.

What is a ligament?

A ligament is a type of connective tissue that connects bone to bone. These are found most commonly around joints, where ligaments often form a capsule around a joint to keep the two bones together. Like tendons, ligaments are incredibly strong, able to withstand a lot of force, as long as it is loaded properly. If ligaments don’t get loaded periodically, they tend to weaken and are more prone to injury.

What is a ligament injury?

A ligament injury occurs when the ligament is overloaded to the point where its structure fails. Depending on the intensity of the overload, this results in a partial or full tear of the ligament. We can categorize ligament injuries into three grades of tear:

  • Grade I (mild): Some stretching of the ligament, with potential microtears. This is also known as a “sprain”, where there is usually pain and mild interference with activity involving the injured ligament.
  • Grade II (moderate): Partial tear of the ligament. This injury is accompanied by moderate pain and joint stiffness and causes significant weakness of the rest of the ligament that’s still intact. With this injury, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to jump back into normal activity until the ligament has healed.
  • Grade III (complete): Complete tear of the ligament. The ligament has completely torn into separate pieces. Usually, this type of injury is initially severely painful, but the pain goes away as the nerve endings to the ligament have been severed. This type of injury needs to be protected well and may require surgery to repair properly.

A ligament can be injured more easily when force is applied to a weak part of the ligament. For example, the ligaments in your ankle are strong to stop the foot from turning in or out, but weaker against twisting your ankle.

What are common ligament injuries?

  • Ankle sprain: The ligaments around your ankle allow it to be a very mobile joint. Twisting it or landing with your foot at an odd angle, though, can overstretch the ligaments on the side of your ankle.
  • ACL sprain: There are four main ligaments that support the knee: one on either side, and two in the center of the knee. The ACL is a ligament inside the joint that prevents the two bones from sliding forward on each other. During sport, some abrupt turns or movements can very quickly stretch the ACL, causing it to sprain or tear.
  • AC joint sprain: Your acromioclavicular (AC) joint lies right on top of your shoulder, between your clavicle (collarbone) and a part of the shoulder girdle called the acromion. If your arm is forced quickly up or down, this joint can become sprained or torn.

Tips to prevent ligament injury

Some ligament injuries are difficult to prevent, such as sport-related injuries. However, you can minimize your risk for a ligament sprain or tear with these tips:

  • Maintain good flexibility: When your muscles and joints are stiff, your body slips into compensating movements to stay functional. This increases the risk that you are loading your ligaments improperly.
  • Lighten the load: If you are doing a heavy activity like shoveling or lifting, take a lighter load. Try to take less snow each load, or lift fewer boxes at once. Don’t forget to take breaks if you feel fatigued!
  • Warm up: Cold muscles and joints are more prone to injury, and ligaments can be affected by this too. Before heavy or intense activities, perform a lighter version of the activity first.
  • Stay fit: If you don’t stretch and load your ligaments often, they will get weak and injure easily. Make sure you are practicing healthy habits and exercising consistently! For tips on staying active, especially in the winter, see our article here.

Treatment for ligament injury

For ligament injuries, we would employ a progressive loading and stretching program as the ligament heals. This may include myofascial release or shockwave therapy if needed. If you have a ligament injury, book an appointment with us today and start your journey to recovery!

About The Author

Jonathan Rankin obtained his MSc in Physiotherapy at McMaster University, and also completed both a BSc and an MSc in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. He has a strong background in exercise, from working as a personal trainer at the University of Ottawa to conducting research on exercise during pregnancy in his master’s degree.

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