Ligaments have a simple and important function. They hold bones and joints throughout the body in alignment. When an articulation (joint) is out of alignment, it is always accompanied by a ligament tear. The body responds by forcing nearby muscle tissue to attempt to take over the ligament’s job tightening into a spasm in order to protect from further damage.
The muscle spasm you experience with this is really your friend, despite the symptoms associated with it. The first impulse many people have is to apply heat to relieve the spasm. This leads to two negative effects. The heat brings increased inflammation (note the root, flame) and relaxes the muscle splinting or spasm. This relaxation forces the wounded ligament to attempt to do its job, causing further tearing and damage. Often people will attempt to use NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs). One of them is deeply contraindicated as it biochemically interferes with the healing process (see the article by this author, “For Your Inflammation”). This drug is marketed as Motrin and Ibuprofen.
The study and treatment of ligaments was a healing art sadly decimated in the 1930s by the AMA’s economic power grab. It was called Naprapathy. Directional Non Force Chiropractic Technique’s founder, Dr. Richard Van Rumpt was trained in Naprapathy and integrated it into his method, adjusting ligaments as well as bones, muscles, and discs.
Ligaments by their nature are similar to tendons, which connect muscles to bones. They are made up of parallel bundles of collagen fibers, almost like a rubber band made up of little thin threads. In order for them to heal optimally, the parts they connect need to be aligned. Sadly, ligaments do not typically heal to 100% of their previous function, as it is rare for all of the threads to realign perfectly. This results in some permanent limitation of function, depending on the severity of the ligament injury.
When ligaments have been sprained anywhere in the body, the best treatment for it immediately is the use of ice. There is a period of approximately 2-14 days for the body to react with splinting and inflammation. This is the best time to have the affected joints (spinal or peripheral) aligned by a professional. Originally, immobilization was recommended for management of ligament tear, but the generally accepted management now is limited use within the range of motion without challenging the edge of the range of motion. This limits further tearing and damage while enhancing lymphatic and circulatory flow. Stretching risks further tearing and damage when the ligament tear is in its acute phase.
X-rays are generally ineffective in diagnosing a ligament tear while MRI and CAT scans are rather extreme in many cases. Conservative management is typically the order of the day. Aligning the joints tends to speed recuperation and increase the percentage of restored ligamentous function. Be kind to your ligaments. They hold you together and are irreplaceable.