Ligaments, which are the flexible bands of fibers that connect our bones together, limit the amount of movement between our bones. But when our ligaments stretch and strain beyond those limits, it can be an excruciating experience.
A strained ligament might not sound as serious as a broken bone, but a severe ligament injury often feels just as painful and can involve months of recovery.
Read on to learn the signs of a strained ligament and gain insight into the ligament healing process.
What Is a Torn Ligament?
A torn or strained ligament occurs when you stress a joint beyond its load capacity. Ligament tears are often the result of an awkward landing or unexpected twist. This can then cause the ligament to tear away from the bone.
Knee and ankle ligaments are especially susceptible to injury as they are weight-bearing joints. As such, they’re often put under a lot of stress when practicing sports that involve full contact or changing direction.
Signs of a Strained Ligament
Signs of a ligament injury include:
- Tearing sensation or a ‘popping’ sound in your joint
- Sudden pain, swelling, and bruising
- Joint instability
- Impaired function, e.g. can’t use or bear weight on the injured joint
The extent to which you experience these symptoms depends on the grade of your injury:
- Grade I – This is a mild ligament tear with little or no joint instability, mild pain and minimal loss of function
- Grade II – This is a moderate but still incomplete ligament tear with some joint looseness, moderate pain, swelling, and difficulty using the injured area
- Grade III – This is a complete ligament tear or rupture. It’s often impossible to use or put weight on the injured area because the joint isn’t stable
Regardless of your symptoms, always consult a doctor after straining a ligament as they will need to determine the severity of your injury grade to decide on the best treatment.
Ligament Injury Treatments
Common ligament injury treatment options include the ‘RICE’ method (rest, ice, compression, elevation), physiotherapy, and surgery.
Another treatment option, which is becoming more common for soft-tissue injuries, is platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP therapy). PRP therapy is a form of regenerative medicine, using the patient’s own platelets to help accelerate the healing process of injured ligaments.
How Long Do Ligaments Take to Heal?
While the answer to the question, ‘do torn ligaments heal?’ is yes, the healing time of a ligament injury varies depending on its location and severity:
Grade I injuries heal within a few weeks. After six weeks the collagen fibers will have matured, ensuring restored strength to the ligament. Resting the injured area and taking steps to reduce swelling can help make recovery time shorter.
Grade II injuries heal within six to 12 weeks. This is when you should have enough muscle strength and control to gradually return to your usual activities. This does depend, however, on the injured area and which activity you intend to resume.
Grade III injuries may require surgery and a long rehabilitation process. For non-surgical ligament injuries, you may not be up to your full level of activity for anything between three and 12 months, but this could be longer for very severe ligament injuries.
Recognizing and Treating a Ligament Injury
While all grades of ligament injuries involve symptoms such as pain and swelling, the degree of these signs can vary a lot between mild and severe strains.
But, knowing how to recognize a ligament injury and getting the right treatment as soon as possible can help speed up the recovery process and prevent re-injury.
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