Joint Injury: What Is It?

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Joint Injury: What Is It?
Joint Injury: What Is It?

Joint Injury: What Is It?

Joints are the mobile connection points between two or more bones and enable targeted movement. They help to cushion shocks and tensile forces. Joints consist of bones, cartilage, ligaments, joint capsules, synovial fluid ("synovial fluid") and other parts such as the meniscus. The capsule-ligament device ensures stability in the joint. An acute injury (trauma) to a joint is often caused by external violence, e.g. blow, fall or impact. A bruise, sprain, dislocation or fracture of the joint occurs. Chronic overload, for example through certain repetitive movements, can lead to joint injuries.


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Ankle, knee, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and thumb joint are commonly affected by injuries. Depending on which part of the joint is injured, the function of the joint is impaired, for example mobility or stability.

When a joint is injured, the joint capsule and ligaments are often affected. A joint injury is therefore also referred to as a "capsule ligament injury" or simply a "ligament injury". Other parts of the joint can also be damaged in the event of an injury, for example joint cartilage, menisci, bursa or bones and muscles connected to the joint.

What types of joint injuries are there?

Joint contusion : A contusion occurs as a result of blunt external force, such as a blow, jump or a fall. This compresses the tissue structures in the joint. Usually a bruise forms and the joint swells. Bruises are painful. Usually, however, the pain slowly subsides after a few days and the injury heals over the course of ten days to two weeks. In the case of severe bruises, this can lead to bursitis. For more information about diagnosis and treatment, see Bruises and Sprains.

Joint sprain: A sprain (distortion) occurs when the normal range of motion of a joint is exceeded, e.g. by a shock, blow or fall. The overstretching causes strains or tears in the ligaments of the joint and the joint capsule. In addition, cartilage and bones can also be injured, for example in the case of a cartilage or cartilage-bone detonation.

The ankle joint (through “overknuckling”), the knee joint and the wrist (eg through twisting or supporting in the event of a fall) or the metatarsophalangeal joint are often affected by an ankle.

If the joint remains stable, it is either a strain ("ligament strain" or "ligament stretch") or at most a partial tear in the capsular ligament structures.

Torn ligament: If the normal range of motion of a joint is greatly exceeded, a ligament can tear completely. The ligament can also tear off the bone. The joint becomes unstable. An example of a frequent ligament tear is the so-called skier's thumb.

Joint fracture: A joint fracture results in a fracture of one or more bones of the joint. A broken bone (fracture) is the result of forceful action when the elastic limit of the bone is exceeded. There is a partial or complete severing of the bone. The surrounding tissue, muscles, skin, etc. can also be injured. Very fine cracks are called a fissure of the bone. A joint fracture affects the head of the joint or the socket of a bone. The most common fractures occur in the wrist, ankle or knee joint. If a fracture is associated with a dislocation, it is called a "dislocation fracture". This is common in the upper ankle. See Fractures for more information.

Dislocation (dislocation): Means a "dislocation" of the joint, ligaments and joint capsules can also be damaged. This makes the joint very unstable. Typical examples are the particularly common shoulder and elbow dislocations. If there is still some contact between the joint partners, this is referred to as incomplete dislocation or subluxation.

Meniscus injury: The intermediate discs (menisci) are injured. Most often, the menisci of the knee joint are injured.

How to prevent joint injuries while exercising

Joint injuries are a common type of injury in sports. A higher risk exists, for example, in ball and martial arts, where body contact, abrupt stopping or changes in direction can easily overload or damage the joints. These sports include basketball, soccer, handball, volleyball, judo, and fencing. Falls can also lead to joint injuries, for example when skiing or mountain biking. When dancing, running and hiking there is a higher risk of twisting your foot (“knuckling”) and injuring your ankle.

Overloading during sport, for example through excessive single or repeated loads, can lead to injuries. Targeted training, including the necessary recovery (regeneration), enables the body to adapt to the physical strain. The following measures will help reduce the risk of injuries while exercising:

  • Training of general fitness (strength, endurance, speed, dexterity, flexibility).
  • Training of special skills and movement sequences ("techniques") for the respective sport.
  • Targeted exercises to warm up before sport, e.g. mobilization exercises.
  • Use suitable equipment and protective equipment, e.g. high shoes when hiking.

For more information, see: Ten Tips for Healthy Exercise.

What are the symptoms?

Joint injuries cause - depending on the severity - symptoms such as

  • Bruising,
  • Swelling,
  • Pain,
  • Movement restrictions,
  • Instability in the joint as well
  • Joint misalignments.

How is the diagnosis made?

After collecting the medical history or the course of the injury, the doctor will conduct a physical examination. Among other things, the extent of movement restrictions and external signs are checked. X-ray examinations are used to diagnose fractures and dislocations and are carried out to rule out tears or cracks in the bones (fissures) even in the case of minor complaints. Injuries to ligaments, tendons, muscles, cartilage or intermediate discs are not clearly visible in the X-ray image. With so-called function recordings or "held recordings", an X-ray image of the joint is recorded in the unfolded position. This allows the doctor to assess whether the ligament is likely to be pulled or torn.

In individual cases, further examinations such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) or ultrasound (sonography) may follow. Cartilage injuries and injuries to the intermediate discs (eg the menisci in the knee) can be identified by means of an arthroscopy and often treated at the same time.

A joint puncture can help clarify the cause of any swelling in the joint. A small amount of fluid is removed from the joint with a fine hollow needle under sterile working conditions. Clear fluid is produced by the synovial membrane in response to a stimulus (e.g. overload). If the capsule, ligaments, or bone are injured, the fluid can be bloody red and if inflamed, cloudy yellow. At the same time, the puncture can relieve pressure pain and relieve the joint.

How is joint injury treated?

Information on first aid measures for sprains, bruises, dislocations, broken bones, etc. can be found under Emergency: Injuries.

For the acute treatment of the principles of the PECH rule apply P housing, E is, C ompression, H ochlagern. For more information, see Sports Injuries. In the event of severe pain and suspected torn ligament, bone fracture or other serious injury, rapid medical care is necessary.

The treatment of joint injuries ranges from protection or special positioning of the joint to the administration of painkillers or surgical measures.

  • Depending on the type of injury, torn ligaments are treated without surgery (conservative) - that is, by resting and protecting - or surgically.
  • Dislocations (dislocations) must be corrected by a doctor as quickly as possible to avoid accompanying injuries, e.g. to nerves and blood vessels.
  • Joint fractures are splinted and immobilized. Surgery is necessary in certain cases.
  • Torn ligaments and joint contusions usually heal within a few weeks without any consequences. In the case of torn ligaments, dislocations or broken bones with joint involvement, the healing time depends on the type and location of the injury.


The injured joint should, according to the doctor's instructions, be moved as soon as possible - even after an operation. Movement exercises, muscle building training and physical therapies prevent the ligaments and tendons from becoming stiff and the muscles from receding (atrophied). So-called movement rails (motor rails, CPM rails) can also be used, especially after an operation. These are special, motor-driven devices that allow continuous passive movements of a joint in a predetermined range of motion.

Whom can I ask?

If you have a joint injury, you can go to the following offices for diagnosis and treatment:

  • Emergency doctor or rescue (144) in the event of acute injuries
  • Accident outpatient clinic in a hospital
  • General practitioner
  • Specialist in orthopedics and traumatology
  • Specialist in orthopedics and orthopedic surgery
  • Specialist in trauma surgery
  • Specialist in physical medicine and general rehabilitation

An inpatient stay in the hospital is necessary for surgical treatment.

The exercise therapy after acute treatment can be performed on an outpatient basis by a doctor, for example, in the Outpatient Department or by established physiotherapists / physical therapists or occupational therapists / occupational therapists.

How are the costs going to be covered?

The e-card is your personal key to the benefits of the statutory health insurance. All necessary and appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic measures are taken over by your responsible social insurance agency. A deductible or contribution to costs may apply for certain services. You can obtain detailed information from your social security agency. Further information can also be found at:

  • Right to treatment
  • Visit to the doctor: costs and deductibles
  • What does the hospital stay cost?
  • Prescription fee: This is how drug costs are covered
  • Medical aids & aids
  • Health Professions AZ

and via the online guide to reimbursement of social insurance costs.