Sinead Brogan is a Chartered Physiotherapist and runs FlexPhysio Physiotherapy Clinic at Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. To book an appointment or ask a question call Sinead at 083 1722171
Ligaments connect bone to bone. They are composed mostly of long, stringy collagen fibres creating short bands of tough fibrous connective tissue. Ligaments help stabilise the joint, maximising strength and preventing excess movement. Ligaments are attached to the bones either side of a joint. Ligament injuries are common, especially in the hand and ankles. For example, the hand is so exposed and so widely used in day to day activities, ligament injuries are a possibility. Ligament injuries are also common in the hand and wrist area during contact sports like rugby, Gaelic football, hurling, camogie and hockey. Ligament injuries are typically partial tears known as sprains. Most heal without any problems. Complete tears can occur and ligaments can be cut in accidents with sharp objects. Complete tears may need surgery.
General information on ligament injuries
Ligaments are sprained when the joint is stressed beyond its normal range. Common causes of a ligament injury include twisting or landing awkwardly. It is most common when the ligaments around a particular joint are at full-stretch, causing it to tear away from the bone or even tear apart. Symptoms of ligament injuries include sudden onset of pain and severe swelling; joint instability and impaired function (eg) not being able to walk or run. Most ligament injuries if treated properly can mean a safe return to normal activities and sport between 4 to 12 weeks. The time period varies greatly depending upon the location and severity of injury. A complete tear or rupture of a ligament will take longer to heal.
Difference between a sprain and a strain?
A sprain is an injury to a ligament. A common sprain is a “twisted ankle”. A strain is a stretched muscle or tendon (tendons attach muscle to bone). Common sprains include ankle sprain, sprained wrist or finger or thumb sprain. Common strains include groin strain, hamstring injury or neck strain. The treatment for sprains and strains are fairly similar.
General treatment tips for ligament injuries
Initially when the injury occurs, it is essential to rest the injured ligament for at least the first 48 hours. Avoid any activities that could further aggravate it including sports. You may not need to miss work once your job does not require manual labor. For example, strained hand ligaments may make typing or writing difficult for the first few days
Icing the injured area is important for the first 48 hours. Apply ice wrapped in a towel or other cloth to the injury for 15-minute intervals, once per hour on the first day. On the following days, ice the hand for 15 minutes once every 3 hours. The ice reduces inflammation and swelling. After about four days, applying heat to the affected area can help; heat increases blood flow in the area thus reducing inflammation by releasing inflammatory substances from the affected area.
Keeping the injured area elevated higher than the heart ensures blood does not pool around the injured ligament. Elevation reduces swelling and allows the injured ligament to heal quicker and correctly. For example, keep the affected hand or ankle elevated during sleep by propping it up using pillows. Try to sleep on your back.
A specially designed support or brace provided by your doctor, physiotherapist or pharmacist may be required to ensure that the injured area is kept immobile and in the correct healing position. The brace should be tight enough to keep the area rigid, but not so tight it constricts blood flow. Once the injury is well enough