Ligament injuries are sprains or strains. Sprains occur when there is overstretching of the ligament (common with ankle sprains). Strains occur with injured ligaments (common with hamstring strains).
Sprains usually occur from direct trauma, like falling or twisting injuries, resulting from overuse of the muscle in question, such as in tennis elbow.
Most ligament injuries will heal completely. However, even a low-grade injury that resolves ultimately can affect your ability to function normally for weeks or months afterward.
At times, ligament injuries may require expert treatment or surgery to repair. In that case, contact our expert physicians at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow in Atlanta or Marietta, Georgia, for diagnosis and treatment.
Sprains and strains can cause swelling and pain, but they are often more severe than simple muscle soreness. Ligament injuries often include a limited range of motion.
The pain and swelling in the injured area are the first symptoms of any ligament injury. Swelling is usually uniform and not very large.
However, if you have a more severe injury, it may be more significant and even in a different spot. This kind of swelling could indicate something besides an acute ligament injury.
The pain is usually intense and, at times, makes it difficult to move the injured area. It might even cause other areas of the body to become sore.
You may periodically feel stiffness and soreness when using the injured area. Altered range of motion (ROM) is also common after a ligament rupture.
Swelling, pain, and a compromised ROM can make it difficult to return to sports activities following an acute ligament injury.
Diagnosis of ligament injury often involves several steps. The first step is an evaluation of the patient’s injury.
To do this, a physician will physically examine the injured area and look for many signs, including swelling, tenderness, and deformity. The physician will also try to determine whether there is suspected instability in the joint.
It is important to determine the instability of the joint because if the patient has ligament injury with no joint instability, they may have a greater risk for osteoarthritis later on in life.
Joint instability is often tested by a physical examination, X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. The second step in diagnosing ligament injury is ensuring that the joint does not have fractures or dislocation.
The physician will physically examine the joint and look for any evidence of instability. If the joint appears unstable, an X-ray or CT scan is needed.
The final step in diagnosing ligament injury is a thorough history and physical examination of the patient.
There are often no abnormal findings on an X-ray or MRI, but the patient still has symptoms that may indicate ligament injury. In these cases, the treating physician will often diagnose ligament injury based on the symptoms the patient is experiencing.
In most cases, you can treat these injuries on your own. To treat a ligament injury, get comfortable by sitting on a bed, reclining chair, or using pillows to elevate the injured area. Remove any tight shoes, socks, or garments, so you don’t cause additional damage.
Second, make sure you have a pain reliever handy if the pain gets too intense when applying ice. Finally, for the icing step, grab a bag of ice or gel ice pack and wrap it in a towel.
Apply it carefully over (or under) the injured area. Repeat this procedure for 20 minutes at a time three to four times a day.
After the icing, you need to start figuring out what other medications you can take to relieve pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs will help you get through that first 72 hours while your ligament injury heals.
Check with a doctor before taking any medications, especially anti-inflammatory drugs. Notably, OTC medications will not provide long-term pain relief; they are only a temporary fix.
If you continue to have problems after 72 hours, contact your doctor to discuss your options. You may need to take a prescription medication, especially if the ligament is torn or damaged to the point where surgery is required.
Book an appointment today at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow at our Atlanta and Marietta locations.
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