Ligament Pain

What is ligament pain?

Ligaments, known as connective tissue, are very tough and fibrous tissue composed of interconnecting bands of collagen. Ligaments connect the bones and cartilage of the body serving as the “glue” to keep the body together. They form a tough capsule around the joints and, while normal ligaments are very tough, they can stretch.

Ligaments may become inflamed with excessive activity. Symptoms include pain and tenderness around the joint, swelling and sometimes bruising, pain that worsens with movements, and decreased movement in the joint.

What causes ligament pain?

Ligaments can thicken over time depending on the workload demanded of them. When they become too thick, they may interfere with other tissue such as the nerves. Sudden pulls, twists, or hyperextension of joints can injure or sprain ligaments. Severe sprain is when part of the ligament it completely torn.

Nerve impingement as a result of thickening ligaments in the spine can result in nerve damage, pain, weakness, and numbness radiating to the extremities. Carpal tunnel syndrome of the wrist is another example of pain from compression of the nerve to the hand by a too thick ligament.

Ligament injury is very common in middle-aged and overweight people who do too much at once, such as ‘weekend warriors.’ In the senior years, with proper muscle conditioning, sufferers can experience ligament atrophy, which limits mobility.

How to treat ligament pain

While most sprains heal within a few weeks, damage to tough ligament tissues may take weeks or months. As a result, sufferers may develop chronic pain and weakness in the joint and surrounding muscle tissue during recovery. Some sprains never fully recover.

Minor sprains are treated with rest, elevation of the affected joint, local ice followed by heat for 24-48 hours, and anti-inflammatory medications. Severe sprains or nerve compression may require prolonged immobilization, physical therapy, or surgery.

The standard treatments for ligament pain are over-the-counter pain medication, prescription narcotic pain medication, rest, physical therapy, and steroid injections. These treatments are typically not sufficient and, in the case of oral medication, have serious side effects such as sedation, nausea, constipation, and addiction. Extended use of over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen, can cause stomach ulcers and kidney, heart, or liver failure.

Sudden severe pain, especially in the chest, arms, or head, pain associated with fever, numbness or weakness, or pain in any area of the body that does not resolve after a couple of weeks, should always be evaluated by a physician to be certain that other medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, infections, or even cancer is not the underlying cause of pain.

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