Ligaments connect bone to bone. Simply put, they hold the bones of your joints together. It’s common to injure ligaments when participating at in athletic activities, or even while going about activities of daily living. The ligaments in your joints (wrist, knee, ankle) are always working.
When you engage in challenging activities, such as running, playing sports, mowing the lawn and other active pursuits, you can put a great deal of stress on your ligaments. When this happens you may excessively stretch or even tear ligaments.
What Should You Do After You Experience a Ligament Injury?
The first thing you should do following a ligament injury is seek medical attention. One of the best ways to recover from a ligament injury is to get an accurate assessment right away followed up by the right treatment.
Prompt medical attention reduces pain, speeds up recovery time, reduces the amount of time you have to take off from your activity or from work, and also reduces the amount of drugs you’ll need to take to deal with pain and the likelihood of recurrent injury in the future.
Delaying seeing your doctor or physiotherapist will only compound your injury. While you may think that you just have a simple ligament, muscle or soft tissue injury, you may actually have a bruised bone, a hairline fracture or dislocation. Better safe than sorry! Seek your doctor’s advice right away.
What’s the Best Way to Immediately Manage A Ligament Injury?
Of course you won’t be able to see your doctor the moment that you injure yourself, but while you’re waiting there are a number of things you can do that will help reduce your symptoms and improve your chances of quick recovery.
Follow the RICE protocol: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation
Rest: Don’t try to play or work through your injury. Immediate rest is extremely helpful in injury recovery. For the first two or three days following your injury avoid any activity that causes you pain.
Ice: Apply ice at first. During the two or three days while you’re resting, apply an ice pack for about 20 minutes every two or three hours. This will help cool down your injury, reduce swelling and pain and minimize the negative effects of bruising, muscle tears and ligament sprains.
Compression: Use elastic support or compression bandage to minimize the swelling of ligament injuries to joints. A compression bandage applied during the first few days following an injury provide support and somewhat immobilizes the injured area so that new scar tissue can form. A compression bandage will also help to reduce the amount of pain you experience.
Elevation: Keeping your injured limb at a level higher than your heart is another great way to reduce swelling and pain. Note that if elevation causes pain, you naturally should not elevate.
What About Heat Therapy?
Heat relaxes muscles and soothes your pain. Heat therapy is soothing and can help improve recovery. Heat encourages good blood circulation which will help your injury recover more quickly.
After the first couple of days, you can begin applying heat packs to your injured limb. Apply heat for about 20 minutes at a time several times daily for the best results.
With both cold and heat therapy, be careful of extreme temperatures. Wrap cold packs and hot packs in a towel to protect your skin against frostbite and burns, respectively.
When Should Formal Treatment Begin?
Once your injured limb has rested up, you need to begin light exercise. To determine the correct exercises to help speed up your injury recovery, it’s a good idea to seek the advice of a physiotherapist.
For the best results, get an appointment with your doctor or physiotherapist within several days of your injury. Once you have followed RICE protocol for a few days, get in to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Treatment for ligament injury may include electro therapy, soft tissue massage and a variety of exercises and joint mobility techniques.
Prompt attention from a physiotherapist will improve the development of your scar tissue. Good healing techniques help guide the formation of scar tissue and prevent buildup of scar masses.
A professional treatment plan reduces pain and speeds up healing. Faster healing means less time off from work or sports. In fact, quick attention from a physiotherapist may actually improve your sports or work performance by strengthening the injured area.
Can You Just Heal a Ligament Injury on Your Own?
If you try to go it alone with only RICE protocol, you may take a great deal longer to heal, and you may end up with ongoing pain. Furthermore, amateur ligament healing can leave you more vulnerable to future injuries. The reason for this is that you may wind up with abnormal formations of scar tissue, stiff joints and weak muscles.
You should also understand that the symptoms that go along with injuries (e.g. favoring one limb, coping by adjusting your movements, etc.) will become habitual if continued for over three months. When your coping mechanisms become ingrained in your way of life, it is very difficult if not impossible to correct them.