You hear it all the time when you’re watching a sporting event: “Oh, that looks like an ACL injury!” or “Let’s hope she just sprained her ligament instead of tearing it.”
But what does that mean?
A ligament is a short band of tough, flexible tissue made up of lots of individual fibers. Ligaments connect bone to bone or bone to cartilage; their primary function is to keep your bones in alignment and keep your joints from moving in ways they are not supposed to move.
Ligament injuries (also called a sprain) can occur when your joint is stressed too far beyond its normal range. This happens often in sports when an athlete twists, lands awkwardly, or falls. The most common injuries occur to knee and ankle ligaments because they are constantly in action and under stress as they bear your weight.
If a ligament is torn completely, it will require surgery to be repaired, but if it is just stretched, you can treat this type of injury without surgery. Dr. Chris Clark and his team at Premier Spine and Sports Medicine are experts at treating these kinds of injuries. Here are five methods they may use, depending on the severity of your injury.
The generally accepted wisdom on how to initially treat a ligament injury can be summed up in one acronym: RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. The last three parts of this method have to do with controlling swelling, but let’s talk about rest first.
Rest: If a body part is injured, you should give it some time to recover without the continual stress caused by your activities. The recovery time will vary based on the injury, but you should plan to spend some time resting that area of your body.
Ice: The coldness of the ice will give you some pain relief immediately after the injury, and continued application will help reduce swelling by limiting blood flow to the injured area. You should generally ice for 15-20 minutes after the injury and then 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours for the first couple of days. Make sure to wrap the ice in a paper towel or thin towel to keep it from making direct contact with your skin.
Compression: Wrapping the injured area in an elastic bandage will compress the site and help limit swelling. Don’t wrap it too tightly, or you will cause circulation problems – if the area becomes numb or starts swelling more, loosen the bandage.
Elevation: A final way to help reduce swelling involves raising the injured area above the level of your heart. This slows down blood flow to the area, which keeps the swelling to a minimum. This is especially helpful at night if you can sleep with your leg propped up on a couple of pillows, for instance.
If your pain is severe enough, you may need an injection of medicine to provide relief. This usually includes an anesthetic to numb the area, and a corticosteroid, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can significantly reduce your pain. The injection can take a couple of days to kick in. If the swelling goes down, you probably don’t need another shot; if it remains, you may get another shot in a few months.
If the steroid shot does not provide pain relief, Dr. Clark can inject a natural substance called platelet-rich plasma into the injury site. This plasma is made up of platelets, which are blood cells taken from your own body (a centrifuge separates the platelets from the rest of your blood) that promote healing when they reach an injury. The high concentration of platelets helps your ligament heal faster than it normally would.
Balance, control, and strengthening exercises can also help your ligaments heal more quickly than they otherwise would. The specific exercise will depend on your particular injury, but if you repeat your exercises on at least a daily basis, you will be greatly helping your recovery process by building strength and flexibility back into your injured area.
These treatment solutions will put you well on your way to recovery from a ligament injury. The expert team at Premier Spine and Sports Medicine will be happy to guide you through your recovery. Call or book an appointment online today!