What is a Torn Ligament? And How Does it Happen?

A torn ligament can severely affect a dog’s ability to walk and move normally. Understanding what a ligament does and what happens when it breaks can lead to faster recovery.

Ligament Injuries and the Effects on a Dog

A dog’s ligaments and tendons support a dog’s bones and joints. The ligament connects bones to other bones directly at the joint. A healthy ligament stabilizes the joint and allows it to move naturally. A dog’s ligaments stretch to support the joint and keep the joints connected.

When a ligament breaks, it can be excruciating and severely affect a dog’s ability to move naturally. Once torn, the ligament causes the joint to become unstable. The joint can no longer rotate, bend, or move properly. The recovery period can be lengthy for a dog, taking several months to fully heal. Although it’s possible for a dog’s torn ligament to heal on its own, most dogs will require surgery, plenty of rest, and rehabilitation therapy to make a full recovery. Each dog will have a different one recovery time, but expect your dog’s exercise to be restricted for a few months. It may be several weeks before your dog is able to put full weight on the injured leg.

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There are two types of ligament tears, chronic and acute.

  1. An acute ligament rupture is a sudden tear most likely caused by a traumatic injury. Dogs with an acute ligament tear often show no sign of pain or damage until their injury prevents them from walking.
  2. A chronic ligament tear occurs insidiously over a long period of time, with ligament degeneration worsening over time. A dog with a chronic torn ligament may show only minor signs of injury, but it will get worse over time. Failure to do so will result in damage progressing to a full rupture.

signs of a tear

  • sudden pain
  • The dog cannot put weight on its leg
  • Limited range of motion in the injured joint
  • Popping or crackling noises in the affected joint

Common ligament injuries in dogs

By far the most common ligament injury in dogs is a cruciate ligament tear in the dog’s knee. A cruciate ligament tear is not the only ligament your dog can injure. Other ligament tears are:

  • Cruciate Ligament Rupture or CCL
  • Torn Achilles tendon
  • Torn ligaments in the ankle
  • shoulder ligament injury

Understand the difference between a tear and a sprain

Although a sprain and torn ligaments are similar, they are two different injuries. A sprain occurs when a ligament becomes overstretched due to a fall or injury. When a ligament is overstretched or twisted, it can also become overstretched. In comparison, a ligament tear occurs when the tissue itself tears. A torn ligament is often a more serious injury and requires additional recovery time and rehabilitation while it heals. A minor sprain or strain may be classified as a Grade 1 injury, while a complete fracture or tear would fall into the more severe Grade 3 category.

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