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Ligament Injuries

Damage to ligaments, the fibrous bands of tissue that hold bones together at a joint

  • More common in males
  • Playing sports is a risk factor
  • Age and genetics are not significant factors

Ligaments attach bones to each other within joints and help to keep joints stable. Ligaments are only slightly elastic and are easily damaged if they are overstretched. Possible injuries range from minor tears, also called sprains, to complete rupture. The most common cause of a ligament injury is a sudden twisting or wrenching movement due to a fall, playing sports, or exercising excessively. Such injuries occur more commonly in men because they exercise more vigorously. Failure to warm up properly before starting exercise is another cause of ligament injury. The ankle and knee are injured most often.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually develop suddenly in the affected joint and may include:

  • Pain, particularly on movement.

  • Swelling and bruising.

  • An abnormal range of movement at the joint.

If you are unable to use a joint after injuring it, you should consult your doctor promptly because tearing a ligament may lead to a dislocation of the bones within the affected joint (see Dislocated joint).

What might be done?

Most ligament injuries heal well within 8 weeks without treatment, but you can help speed up recovery of a mild sprain using measures such as applying a cold compress to the affected area. To relieve pain, you may be given nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If the pain is severe, you may have an X-ray to rule out a fracture. Physiotherapy is often needed after severe injuries, and surgery may also be necessary. Sometimes, the ruptured ligament is beyond repair. In such cases, the ligament may be replaced with a nearby tendon or a donor graft.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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