Ligament tears, also known as sprains, are extremely common among runners. In fact, they’re one of the top three injuries that runners regularly complain of, along with abrasions and blisters.
Whether you’re training for an upcoming race or just prefer running as your main form of exercise, if you’re not careful, there’s a good chance that you may find yourself dealing with a torn ligament at some point.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about torn ligaments and how to both treat and prevent them.
What is a Torn Ligament?
Ligaments are bands of tissue that connect the bones in the body. Ligaments are short, tough, and flexible, and they’re made of lots of single fibers. They allow passive limitations to the amount of movement that can occur between the bones.
Ligament tears can occur anywhere in the body. But, among runners, the knees and ankles are particularly susceptible to tears since they absorb a lot of shock during training.
Ligament tears fall into three different categories depending on their severity:
- Grade 1: This is a mild injury that occurs when the ligament is slightly stretched and its fibers sustain a small amount of damage
- Grade 2: This is a moderate injury that occurs when the ligament is partially torn
- Grade 3: This is a severe injury that occurs when the ligament is completely torn
Common Causes of Torn Ligaments
Healthy, strong ligaments are capable of expanding and snapping back into place whenever you move. But, sometimes, ligaments get pushed beyond their normal limits and a sprain occurs.
Actions that most commonly cause ligaments to tear include twisting while running and sudden impact (landing incorrectly when coming down from a jump).
Symptoms of Torn Ligaments
Ligament tears are typically characterized by the following symptoms:
- Sudden pain
- Severe swelling
- Joint instability
- Impaired ability to walk, run, or bear weight
How to Prevent Torn Ligaments
The following are some of the best things runners can do to prevent torn ligaments:
Warm Up and Cool Down Properly
Properly warming up before running or performing other types of physical activity is essential. Spend some time walking or lightly jogging before you try to increase your speed.
It’s also beneficial to do some dynamic stretching before you start to run. Dynamic stretching requires you to move your joints through a full range of motion — as opposed to static stretching, where you hold a stretch for an extended period of time.
Dynamic stretches help warm up the muscles and allow you to connect to a range of motion — static stretches, on the other hand, have the potential to increase injury risk when they’re performed before exercising.
It’s better to reserve static stretching for after your training session. Static stretching helps relax the muscles, ligaments, and tendons and helps promote proper circulation, which, in turn, promotes faster recovery.
Lifting weights is great for strengthening the ligaments, muscles, and tendons and allows them to support the body as you run and perform other types of exercise.
Lifting weights with a short range of motion is especially beneficial for strengthening the ligaments. Good exercises for ligament strengthening include bench press, squats, leg press, dumbbell curls, and triceps extensions.
Eat Lots of Calcium
Eating a calcium-rich diet is also beneficial for strengthening the ligaments and preventing tears. Good sources of calcium include:
- Full-fat yogurt
- Whole milk
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
It’s also important to make sure you’re getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D and magnesium. You need both of these to help your body absorb calcium properly.
How to Treat Torn Ligaments
Grade 3 torn ligaments may require surgery to correct the issue, but grade 1 and grade 2 torn ligaments can usually be treated at home with rest, ice, elevation, and compression. You can also use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help minimize pain and swelling.
After resting for anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks, you should be able to ease back into your training routine. You may want to wear a brace for a few weeks after to provide the affected joint with some extra support.
By Joe Fleming