A ligament stretch or strain is a common sports injury. Heavy stress on the joint ligaments through extreme and jerky movements leads to overstretching or straining of these ligaments. Typical causes are therefore twisting the knee or twisting the foot. A doctor should be consulted to rule out a broken bone and other complications.
What is a ligament stretch (ligament strain)?
A ligament stretch, often also called a ligament strain, describes an overstretching of the ankle ligaments. The signs of a ligament stretch are usually severe swelling, severe bruising and noticeable pain in the area of the affected joint.
Targeted first aid for suspected ligament stretching is a pressure bandage to hold back the swelling, adequate cooling and an immediate visit to the hospital. Because when a ligament is diagnosed, a possible ligament tear or bone fracture must always be ruled out.
Ligament stretching usually occurs as a consequence of an accident in which the person concerned kinks or otherwise hits the ankle in an unfavorable way. Ligament stretching can also occur if the ankle is severely twisted. Therefore, ligament stretching often occurs in connection with a wide variety of sporting activities, because ankle ligaments are found on all joints in the human body.
Most commonly, however, the ankle joints of the feet and fingers are affected by ligament stretching. Ligament stretching is quick and very painful, but in most cases not really of a drastic nature. It’s more common than many people expect. Ligament stretching can come in different degrees of severity: from easy to medium to very difficult. It is therefore important to closely monitor the symptoms of ligament stretching after an accident.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
A stretching or straining of the ligaments is usually caused by excessive stress on the joints. This clinical picture becomes noticeable through a stabbing pain, which also occurs afterwards in a state of rest. Affected people are severely restricted in the entire course of movement when ligaments are stretched, as even the slightest movements cause severe pain.
In some cases, swelling can also be seen, but this can be inhibited by adequate cooling. A stretching of the ligaments can, however, also become noticeable in the absolute resting state. Affected people often feel long-lasting pain that can affect the entire leg.
In some cases, the affected joint can become inflamed, causing an abscess to form. Such an abscess is noticeable by a bluish discoloration at the respective location. If there are several signs of such an abscess, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible.
The more the ankle ligaments are strained when the ligament is stretched, the more severe the swellings, bruises and pain. Depending on the severity of the ligament stretch, pain can occur while standing or only while walking. Most often they appear as tenderness or a felt blockage in the joint.
In the resting state, for example when the foot or hand is cooled a lot and put up, the affected ankle usually swells again considerably. The pain also subsides with sufficient rest – but only as long as the joint is spared. If you try to return to normal everyday life or sports prematurely with a ligament stretch, the symptoms come back very quickly, and usually more drastically.
A simple stretching of the ligaments is usually harmless and can be overcome after a few days. However, if the strain is not or only insufficiently treated, various complications can arise. If left untreated, ligament stretching always runs the risk of complete ligament rupture and, as a result, chronic joint instability; Limitations in movement and functionality are possible consequences.
In addition, the joints are stressed by an incorrect load as a result of a relieving posture, which can lead to premature joint wear. In addition, ligament stretching restricts mobility and increases the risk of accidents in everyday life. If sport is started too early after a stretch or if the joints are excessively stressed in everyday life, the symptoms return very quickly and usually more severely.
If the strain does not heal completely, there is also the risk of permanent gait disorders or joint pain. The pain often radiates into the entire foot and thus also develops into a physical burden for the person affected. During treatment, improper therapeutic measures can lead to a prolongation of the ligament stretching and consequently to serious complications.
When should you go to the doctor?
If you suspect a ligament stretch you should see a doctor immediately. Pain and swelling in the affected joint indicate a serious injury that needs medical attention and, if necessary, immediate treatment.
At the latest when the joint can no longer be moved or can only be moved to a limited extent, a visit to a doctor is recommended. A slight overstretching, on the other hand, usually heals on its own. If the sporting activities are stopped for a few days, the pain usually subsides quickly and the swelling also subsides without complications.
If the symptoms have not subsided after one to two weeks at the latest, it is best to consult a doctor or sports medicine specialist. Professional athletes and people who have to move around a lot at work should treat sports injuries immediately and then consult a doctor. Severe ligament injuries such as a torn or torn ligament can only be ruled out through a medical diagnosis. In addition, the doctor can initiate targeted treatment and thus accelerate the healing of the ligament stretch.
Treatment & Therapy
In principle, ligament stretching or ligament strain must be diagnosed by a specialist, because a ligament tear and bone fracture must be excluded. Of all possible injuries to the ankle, ligament stretching is sometimes the least problematic to treat. All the joint needs at this point is some rest to recover.
After the accident and if the ligament is stretched, the affected ankle should be protected and raised. Special ointments can support healing, as can targeted cooling. This ensures that the swelling goes down, which in turn makes movement easier. Overall, a ligament stretch heals superficially in about a week. Then, with a ligament stretching, you can slowly return to everyday private and professional life.
Since muscles, tendons and tissue are also affected when a ligament is stretched, you should take it easy for at least two to three weeks after the accident. If the ligament is stretched, slight discomfort can still occur during this time. However, if these are too strong, you should definitely consult a doctor again.
Outlook & forecast
The stretching or straining of ligaments have a good prognosis. The prospect of a cure exists within a few weeks, taking into account the medical guidelines. The affected region must be relieved and participation in physiotherapy increases the healing success significantly. People in good health and with a normal weight can be completely symptom-free within a few months. The time of treatment and adequate rest are decisive for this.
The tissue damage in the deeper layers is then regenerated through the effects of the body’s natural self-healing powers. This process takes place individually and can last up to a year. Until this process is completed, there is an increased sensation of sensitivity in the area. For protection, it is advisable to wear protective measures such as joint protectors or bandages in order to avoid overloading.
The sooner ligament stretch can be diagnosed and treated, the faster the healing process will be. If there is already severe swelling, healing will be delayed. Extensive or repeated ligament stretching can delay recovery. If there are already multiple stretches that have not been fully cured, a dandruff joint can occur. The stability of the joint is significantly impaired and is no longer subject to voluntary control.
In the case of ligament stretching and straining, follow-up care plays an important role. Even ligament stretching results in slight temporary instability of the affected joint. On the one hand, the stabilizing muscles are weakened because they are spared after the injury and are therefore only used to a limited extent. On the other hand, if the ligament is pulled, the sensitive receptors within the ligaments are also damaged, which in turn negatively affects coordination and makes a renewed injury more likely.
Appropriate aftercare ensures, on the one hand, that the muscles are strengthened again and deep sensitivity is restored. This can best be achieved through targeted physiotherapy. This uses targeted strength and coordination exercises to renew damaged structures. Learned exercises can then be continued privately and also have a prophylactic effect against future injuries to the affected ligaments. It is also important to gradually fully load the joint again as soon as this is possible without pain.
On the other hand, in the months after the ligament has been stretched, the joint can also be stabilized with orthopedic bandages and tapes in everyday life and especially when doing sports. However, such supportive measures should not be used permanently to restore the ligamentous apparatus and muscular coordination to natural loads without support.
You can do that yourself
If the ligament is stretched or strained, it is important to counteract any bleeding or excessive swelling as soon as possible. The best way to achieve this is through what is known as the PECH rule.
The name PECH is an abbreviation for first aid measures for injuries such as ligament stretching, which can be carried out easily by the person concerned. These measures include a break (P), the application of ice (E), compression (C), i.e. the application of a pressure bandage, and the elevation of the affected body region (H). A break is understood to mean the immediate termination of any sporting activity after the ligament strain.
This means that the affected joint is consistently spared. The most important first aid measures also include cooling the injured area with an ice pack or cold water. For example, a towel can be dipped in ice water and placed on the painful area for about 15 minutes. Cooling should be done at regular intervals for the first 12 to 24 hours. However, it is advisable not to use real ice, as this leads to increased blood circulation.
If available, a pressure bandage can also be placed around the point where the ligament is stretched. The compression causes increased blood flow after cooling. Elevating the affected area of the body is also useful, as this means that less blood reaches the damaged joint via the arteries. In addition, the injured area should not be used for a few days.