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

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

Ligament Injuries and the Impact 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 help keep the joints connected.

When a ligament tears, it can be excruciating and severely inhibit a dog’s ability to move naturally. Once torn, the ligament will cause the joint to become unstable. The joint may no longer twist, bend, or move properly. The recovery period can be extensive for a dog and can take several months to heal completely. Although it is possible for a dog’s torn ligament to heal on its own, most dogs will require surgery, lots of rest, and rehabilitation therapy to recover fully. Every dog will have a different recovery time, but expect your dog’s exercise to be restricted for a few months. It may take several weeks before your dog is able to bear full weight on the injured leg.

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Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
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There are two types of ligament tears, chronic and acute. 

  1. An acute ligament tear is a sudden tear most likely caused by a traumatic injury. Dogs with an acute ligament tear often show no signs of pain or damage until their injury prevents them from walking. 
  2. A chronic ligament tear occurs gradually over a long period, with degeneration of the ligament worsening as time goes on. A dog with a chronic ligament tear may show only minor signs of injury but will worsen with time. If ignored, the damage will progress to a complete tear. 

Signs of a Tear

  • Sudden pain
  • The dog is unable to bear weight on their leg
  • Limited range of motion in the injured joint
  • Popping or crackling sounds at the affected joint

Common Ligament Injuries in Dogs 

By far, the most common ligament injury in dogs is a cruciate tear in a dog’s knee. A CCL tear isn’t the only ligament that your dog can injure. Other ligament tears include:

  • Cranial cruciate ligament tear or CCL
  • Torn Achilles
  • Ankle ligament tears
  • Shoulder ligament injury

Understanding the Difference Between a Tear and a Sprain

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

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