What is a Ligament Tear?

Ligaments are sturdy bands of tissue that link bones together in your body, enabling various movements such as bending your foot or flexing your fingers. When these ligaments get overstretched or strained too much, they can tear. These tears are categorized into three grades: mild, moderate, and complete, depending on the severity of the tear, also known as a rupture.

Ligament tears commonly occur due to sudden twists or awkward landings, often when the ligaments are stretched to their limit and then experience impact or trauma. For instance, an ankle sprain, which is a mild tear of the ligament in the ankle, can happen during activities like walking or running when you land awkwardly and twist your ankle. People who participate in contact sports or sports involving frequent changes of direction like basketball and tennis, are at a higher risk of experiencing ligament injuries.

Signs & Symptoms

Signs of a ligament tear typically manifest as pain, swelling, and instability in the affected joint. You may experience sudden, sharp pain at the time of injury, often accompanied by a popping sensation or sound. Swelling and bruising around the joint usually develop rapidly following the injury. You may notice difficulty or discomfort when bearing weight on the affected limb, along with a sense of weakness or instability in the joint. Movements that involve the injured ligament, such as bending or twisting, can exacerbate the pain and instability.

In severe cases, you may even find it challenging to move the joint altogether. It’s essential to seek medical attention if you suspect a ligament tear, as proper diagnosis and treatment are crucial for optimal recovery and to prevent further complications.

Causes of Knee Ligament Tears

Ligament tears can occur due to various factors, often involving sudden, forceful movements or trauma to the joint. One common cause is sports-related injuries, particularly in activities that entail rapid changes in direction, sudden stops, or high-impact collisions. For instance, twisting or hyperextending a joint during sports like basketball, soccer, or football can place significant stress on the ligaments, leading to tears. Falls or accidents, such as slipping on ice or tripping over uneven terrain, can also result in ligament tears, particularly in the ankles or knees.

Overuse or repetitive strain on the ligaments, often seen in activities like running or dancing, can weaken the ligaments over time, making them more susceptible to tears, especially if proper rest and recovery periods are not observed. Aging and natural degeneration of the ligaments can contribute to an increased risk of tears, as the tissues become less resilient and more prone to injury with age.

Prevention Methods

Maintaining a regular exercise regimen focused on strengthening and flexibility of the muscles around the knees can help prevent numerous ACL injuries. Physical activity not only enhances our fitness levels but also boosts balance and body awareness.

When you land a jump with stiff legs, it places a lot of strain on your joints and ligaments, especially the ACL, which absorbs much of the impact and raises the chances of injury. To minimize this strain, it’s essential to bend your knees and hips while landing, as this action not only reduces stress on the ACL but also aligns your knees with your feet. By doing so, your core muscles, glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings collaborate to maintain stability and distribute the force evenly, thus protecting the ACL from excessive pressure.

Ligament Tear Treatment Options


When the ACL is torn, it can’t be stitched back together, but it can be reconstructed by grafting new tissue onto it. This involves removing the damaged ligament and replacing it with a tendon from another part of the leg, like the hamstring or patellar tendon. The patellar tendon connects the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone.

Physical Therapy

Whether you opt for surgery or not, undergoing physical therapy is crucial for rehabilitating a torn ligament. The focus may be on activities like cycling and weight training to gradually wean off crutches. As you progress, flexibility exercises become central, followed by efforts to regain full range of motion. Alongside these exercises, your physical therapist may employ techniques such as massage and ultrasound therapy to alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and promote natural healing.

Ligament Tear Post-Surgery Exercises

Following ligament tear surgery, your rehabilitation journey involves several crucial steps to ensure a successful recovery and restoration of function.

Phase 1: Regaining Mobility and Walking Stability

In the initial phase, your focus is on regaining mobility and walking stability without relying on crutches. Partake in activities like weight training to strengthen surrounding muscles, utilize an exercise bike to improve lower body circulation and flexibility, and perform toe and heel raises to enhance ankle stability.

Phase 2: Enhancing Joint Flexibility and Normalizing Gait

Transitioning to the next step involves concentrating on enhancing joint flexibility and restoring your normal walking pattern, known as your “gait." Incorporate exercises such as step-ups and modified lunges to stretch and flex the joint to its fullest extent. Utilize weight machines for targeted exercises like leg extensions, hamstring curls, and leg presses to further strengthen the muscles around the affected area and support joint stability.

Phase 3: Achieving Full Range of Motion and Managing Discomfort

As you progress, the focus shifts towards achieving a full range of motion while effectively managing swelling and discomfort. Integrate exercises using machines like treadmills, ellipticals, or stair steppers to improve cardiovascular fitness and enhance joint mobility. Consider low-impact activities such as swimming or outdoor biking to complement your rehabilitation regimen and promote overall physical well-being.

Each phase of your rehabilitation program plays a crucial role in facilitating your recovery journey post-surgery. It’s essential to follow your healthcare provider’s guidance and gradually advance through each step to optimize outcomes and regain function effectively.

Our team at Hicksville Physical Therapy in Nassau County is trained and ready to help you begin your recovery through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. Our goal is to help you get back to your normal life as quickly and painlessly as possible. Give us a call at (516) 916-7081 for more information or to schedule your free consultation.

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