What to do if You Have a Ligament Injury
by Laura Carter; Practitioner of Hand Therapy
Ligaments are bands of tough, flexible connective tissue.
Their main job is to connect bone to bone or hold your joints together, maximising their strength and limiting their movement.
You have ligaments around your knees, ankles, shoulders, hips - and in your hands!
Read on to learn a little bit more about these ligaments and what to do if you find you’ve injured one.
The Ligaments of the Hand
A large number of ligaments are responsible for providing the mobility and stability that makes our hands so dexterous.
They connect the bones of our fingers to make sure we can hold our coffee cup and stabilise our thumbs while we text on our phones.
There is even a complex web of ligaments holding together the 8 small bones in our wrist that would otherwise float around and move apart.
Because we use our hands so much in day to day life, we expose them to many possibilities for injury.
Unfortunately, this means that hand ligament injuries are quite common.
Ligaments can be stretched, pulled, strained and even completely torn, and can sometimes cause long-term difficulties if not looked after properly.
How do Ligaments Get Injured?
Some common mechanisms of injury for ligaments of the hands and fingers include:
Falling on an outstretched hand
Forceful contact/jamming during sport
Lifting something heavy or bending/twisting your fingers or wrist in an unnatural motion
Catching a thumb or finger on clothes/a bag etc
Any dislocation to a joint
Ligament injuries can also occur over a longer period of time. This may be the case if you:
Hold joints in awkward positions for prolonged periods
Engage frequently in repetitive tasks
Overuse the wrist or fingers
Experience age-related general wear and tear
Signs and Symptoms
While symptoms can vary depending on the severity of injury, generally with ligament injuries you may experience:
Tenderness and bruising,
Excess or abnormal movement in the affected joint, and/or
Loss of strength
In the case of more severe sprains, you may also feel a tearing or popping sensation of the ligament when injury occurs.
I think I have a Ligament Injury - what now?!
The first step is not to panic!
In the case of suspected ligament injury, there are a few things you can do immediately to protect the ligament and help manage symptoms:
Follow the R.I.C.E principles:
Rest/immobilise the injured joint and avoid any activities that exacerbate pain
Ice the injured area to help reduce swelling and inflammation
Compression using an elastic bandage can assist with pain relief and reduce swelling
Elevate the injured hand to make sure it doesn’t become more swollen - this is best done so the joint is above the level of the heart..
Anti-inflammatory medications or creams may also assist the injured site
For any type of ligament injury, it’s important to promptly follow up with your Hand Therapist.
Depending on the severity of your injury, further investigations may be needed and you may need to be splinted or strapped to prevent ongoing trauma.