Ankle + Foot

Ligament Tears


Ligaments are the fibrous connective tissue that connects the bones together in joints. Ligaments stretch within their limits allowing us to perform various activities such as bending and turning without hurting ourselves. However, with stretch forced beyond their limits, ligaments may tear. It is a common injury in basketball and volleyball. It is often seen when someone rolls their foot inward.

A ligament injury is often mistaken for a simple sprain, especially if the injury is a result of a straightforward twist and fall. However, injury to a ligament is not a simple sprain that should be simply "walked off." It is a severe injury that may take many months to heal and may require surgery to treat. If it hurts too much to put any weight on the ankle and you can't walk, seek treatment immediately.

Symptoms of a ligament tear include:

  • Pain, swelling, and bruising
  • Ankle instability
  • Difficulty walking
  • Often there is a popping sound when the ligament ruptures

When you are first injured, the RICE method - rest, ice, gentle compression and elevation - can help speed your recovery.


The diagnosis can be made by a physical examination. Other tests which may help your doctor confirm your diagnosis include X-rays and MRI. An MRI can be helpful if there is doubt as well as to look for damage to other structures within the knee.

Treatment Options

Almost all ankle sprains can be treated without surgery. Even a complete ligament tear may heal without surgical repair if it is immobilized appropriately. Treatment may involve physical therapy, medication, crutches, and immobilization devices such as a cast, boot, or air brace.

Surgical treatment is reserved for injuries that fail to respond to nonsurgical treatment and for patients who experience persistent ankle instability after months of rehabilitation and nonsurgical treatment.

Physical Therapy

Rehabilitation exercises are used to prevent stiffness, increase ankle strength, and prevent chronic ankle problems.