Ligaments are the strong, durable, flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together at a joint, providing the joint with support and enabling a certain amount of movement. Joints are located throughout the body, including in the knee, hip, foot, ankle, hand, elbow, shoulder, wrist, and spine.
Every twist, turn, stretch, or lift involves a ligament. However, these sturdy, elastic bands of tissue are not invincible. If a joint becomes overstretched or twisted, partial or total tears in a ligament can occur – and this is called a sprain. (Contrast this with a strain, which is the same type of injury but to a muscle or tendon, which connects a muscle to a bone.)
Let’s talk about what you need to know about torn ligaments, how to treat them effectively, and where you can go in the Greater Kansas City area for outstanding orthopedic care and sports medicine.
Symptoms of a Torn Ligament
Torn ligaments commonly occur due to a sports injury or an on-the-job injury, but they can also be sustained in a car accident or simply from general wear-and-tear on the joint over years of use.
The telltale signs and symptoms of a torn ligament include:
- A snapping, popping, or crackling sound, followed by pain and some disability in the joint
- Joint pain and/or swelling that doesn’t improve within 72 hours
- Bruising at the area of pain
- Limited mobility in the affected joint
- The inability to bear weight on the affected joint
- Worsening of any of the above symptoms
Types of Torn Ligaments
Most injured ligaments involve the ankles or knees. Whereas a sprained ankle is often the result of a joint twist that partially tears or stretches a ligament in the ankle, a torn knee ligament is typically the result of a sudden, high-impact twisting motion.
An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear is the result of direct impact to the front of the knee. A posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear tends to occur due to a motor vehicle accident or football tackle impacting the back of the knee area. These injuries can be called a sprained knees, but they are more frequently called a torn ACL or torn PCL. These two ligaments together form an “X” shape in your knee, thus the “cruciate” name.
Diagnosing a Ligament Tear
If you suspect you have sustained a torn ligament, you should see a doctor promptly.
To diagnose your condition, the doctor will ask you to describe your injury – including the precise location of the pain, the severity of your pain, and how it occurred – as fully as possible. A physical examination of the injured area will then be performed in which the joint will be tested.
You may be asked to flex or bend the joint so the physician can gauge your ability to move it or bear weight on it. Also, the doctor may order imaging tests on the joint, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI as necessary to confirm a torn ligament or fracture. Keep in mind that ultrasound and MRI do not use radiation.
Treatment for a Torn Ligament
Some torn ligaments heal on their own over time, especially if the injury was only a partial tear. However, it is always best to consult with an orthopedic doctor to make sure the affected area heals correctly, and that the injury is not getting worse.
Recovery time from a torn ligament depends on the severity of the injury and your overall health. Minor tears with minimal damage may take about six weeks to totally heal, provided you don’t prolong the injury by exerting the joint.
If the ligament suffered a total tear, your orthopedist may recommend surgery in order to foster a quicker healing time, since ligaments are notoriously slow at healing thanks to their low number of blood vessels. If the ligament is pulled completely away from a bone, the ligament will have to be surgically reattached in order to prevent possibly permanent disability.
Naturally, it will take longer to recover from a more serious ligament tear, especially if it required surgery and/or physical therapy.
Skilled Orthopedic Doctors in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area
At Midwest Orthopaedics, our board-certified physicians specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of ligament tears. We are specially trained in all aspects of general orthopedics and sports medicine.
For the highest-quality orthopedic care doctor in the Kansas City metro area, call our office today at (913) 362-8317 or request an appointment now via our convenient online form. We look forward to being your partner in health!