What Are the Signs of a Torn Ligament?

Dan Cavallari

A ligament is a band of tissue that helps joints function properly. Ligaments stabilize the joints, so when one ligament tears, the joint function is compromised. The signs of a torn ligament can vary depending on the severity of the injury, as can the treatments for such injuries. Pain is, of course, one of the most common signs of a torn ligament, though pain can be accompanied by bruising, swelling, immobility, and even a popping sound when the ligament tears. The treatments can range from simple rest to more complex surgeries to repair the damaged ligaments.

Bruising may be one of the first signs of a torn ligament.
Bruising may be one of the first signs of a torn ligament.

Athletes are most at risk for experiencing the signs of a torn ligament. If any of the signs should present themselves, it is advisable for the athlete to cease the activity in which they were participating to prevent further injury that can complicate healing. The RICE treatment should be used first; RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. These actions promote blood flow to the injury, which will deliver valuable oxygen for faster healing times. The RICE treatment will also help keep swelling to a minimum and may even help reduce pain.

Woman wearing a splint for a torn ligament in her finger.
Woman wearing a splint for a torn ligament in her finger.

Soreness and a lack of mobility are signs of a torn ligament that indicate a serious problem. If these signs are accompanied by bruising and swelling, the injured person should seek medical attention immediately. A doctor may recommend simply immobilizing the affected joint for an extended period of time, though in certain severe circumstances, a surgery may be recommended. The ligaments will need to be repaired through surgery to ensure the stability of the joint, though after an operation, the injured person is likely to experience reduced mobility and possibly even weakness in the joint. The joint may or may not fully recover, leading the injured person to require a brace or other support during physical activity.

After an appropriate amount of healing time has been granted to address the signs of a torn ligament, the injured person is likely to undergo physical therapy aimed at restoring mobility and strengthening the affected ligaments. These ligaments will weaken during the recovery period, so physical therapy will strengthen them to promote proper joint function. It is advisable to undergo physical therapy under the guidance of a professional physical therapist, though some people may opt to do physical therapy on their own if they have sufficient knowledge of proper physical therapy practices.

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