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Tendon and Ligament Tears, Ruptures, and Injuries

Are you experiencing joint pain or heard a pop? Immediate action is crucial for tendon and ligament injuries. Find out treatment options and why early diagnosis is key to recovery.

Looking For Care for a Ligament/Tendon Tear or Rupture?

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What Are Tendon and Ligament Tears?

Doctors define tendon and ligament tears or ruptures as injuries to the soft tissues that connect muscles and joints. Common symptoms of tendon and ligament tears are pain and swelling. You may also hear or feel a pop when you tear the tissue.

Tears or ruptures to tendons and ligaments can:

  • Cause extreme pain.
  • Happen at any time.
  • Limit or prohibit proper joint function.

Tendon and ligament tears are common injuries. For example, the most common knee ligament injury is tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). About one in 3,500 people will injure their ACL.

Doctors have ways to treat ligament and tendon injuries. Less severe ones may recover on their own with rest. Many people also need bracing and medicine to help recover.

Some people need surgery to repair a torn or ruptured tendon or ligament.

What are the types of ligament/tendon tears and ruptures?

Tendon and ligament tears and ruptures can affect many joints, but our knees often bear the brunt of these injuries.

Two well-known knee tears or injuries are:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. The ACL is one of the major ligaments controlling how knee motion occurs.
  • Meniscus tears. Our knees each have two menisci. This tough cartilage cushions the joint so the femur and tibia can glide against each other without damaging the bone.

What causes tendon and ligament tears?

The main cause of torn tendons and ligaments is traumatic injury, such as:

  • A sudden impact to the joint.
  • Quickly stopping or starting.
  • An abrupt movement to the joint.

Football and basketball players tend to have a higher risk for ACL tears, but anyone can have one at any time.

Meniscus tears have two common causes — a traumatic injury to the knee or the process of degeneration. They often occur from twisting a bent knee joint.

What are the risk factors and complications of tendon and ligament injuries?

Adults are more likely than kids to tear tendons. However, young athletes (and athletes of any age) are at risk for tendon injuries.

Age contributes to your risk for a tendon rupture because tendons lose elasticity the older you get. People who do repetitive motions, like lifting, are also at risk for tendon injury.

Ligament injuries have similar risk factors. However, certain ligament injuries are more likely in women than men, such as a torn ACL. Sports like football, soccer, basketball, downhill skiing, and gymnastics are also risk factors for ligament injury.

Left undiagnosed, tendon and ligament injuries can lead to pain, lack of mobility, and even issues like arthritis.

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What Are the Symptoms of Tendon/Ligament Tear or Ruptures?

Most people who sprain a ligament or strain a tendon know because it hurts. This is true of any ligament or tendon, whether it's your ankle, wrist, or knee.

A severe sprain or strain is a tear. A complete tear is a rupture.

Certain ligament and tendon tears and ruptures have some telltale signs.

When you tear your ACL, the knee becomes unstable. It usually hurts to put any weight on it. Other symptoms of an ACL tear include:

  • A popping sound or feeling in the knee at the time of injury.
  • A great deal of pain.

Some symptoms of a meniscus tear include:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Popping or clicking sensation.
  • Inability to straighten the knee.

If you suspect any of these injuries, you should seek care as soon as possible.

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How Do You Diagnose Tendon and Ligament Injuries?

You should see a doctor right away after tearing or rupturing a tendon or ligament. Swelling can affect the diagnosis of your injury.

To diagnose a tendon or ligament injury or rupture, your doctor will get your medical history and do an exam. Your doctor will also ask questions like:

  • How and when did the injury happen?
  • Did you hear a popping sound?
  • How intense is the pain?
  • Have you had any other injuries to the knee?

Your doctor may order an X-ray or MRI to help confirm a diagnosis.

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How Do You Treat Tendon and Ligament Injuries?

Tendon and ligament tears or ruptures are painful injuries that require an experienced orthopaedic specialist to properly diagnose and treat them.

At UPMC Orthopaedic Care, we offer nonsurgical and surgical treatments for tendon and ligament tears and ruptures.

Choosing the best treatment option will depend on the extent of the tear or rupture, how active you are, and other factors.

Nonsurgical treatment for tendon and ligament tears or ruptures

If you don't plan on resuming your active lifestyle, your doctor may suggest the following nonsurgical treatments:

  • Using a brace for a while.
  • Physical therapy and a slow return to physical activity.
  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs.

Ligament and tendon tear or rupture repair surgery

If you want to return to vigorous activities and sports, tendon tear or rupture surgery may be in your best interest.

The goals of tendon or ligament surgery are to:

  • Provide stability to the affected joint.
  • Restore range of motion.
  • Allow you to return to an active lifestyle.

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