Soft Tissue Injuries 101

In medicine, the term soft tissue refers to tissues that connect, support, or surround other structures and organs of the body. This includes:

  • Muscle
  • Fascia
  • Ligaments
  • Nerves
  • Tendons
  • Joint Capsules

What happens when there's an injury?

After an acute or chronic injury, the body responds with a programmed mechanism to help restore normal function. Four phases are involved:

  • Inflammation - The body responds to injury by increasing circulation to the area of trauma in order to control damage and to remove the irritant
  • Repair - Fibrous tissue is laid down by specific cells called fibroblasts which produce a fibrous scar that is structurally and functionally deficient.
  • Remodeling - The body attempts to make the original scar (the collagen deposition) capable of behaving in a similar way to the original tissue before the injury.
  • Maturation - This process can take as long as 6 - 8 months until the new collagen tissue can withstand near normal stress.

Types of soft tissue injuries

  • Acute injuries (Pulls, tears, collisions, sprains, strains, etc.)
  • Accumulation of small tears (micro-trauma or repetitive stress/strain)
  • Not getting enough oxygen (Hypoxia)

Treatment

If diagnosed early and treated properly, most non-traumatic injuries can be effectively treated with combination of:

  • "RICE"
  • Rest - protects the injured muscle, tendon, ligament or other tissue from further injury
  • Ice - pain relief, limits swelling, 15 minutes on 20 minutes off
  • Compression - limits swelling, some pain relief, make sure not too tight (throbbing)
  • Elevation - reduce swelling, elevate injured area above heart
  • Stretching and strengthening
  • Activity or technique modification
  • If left untreated and allowed to become chronic, the injury may take longer to resolve.

Recovery

Phases of healing after an acute soft tissue injury can vary depending on severity and structures involved.

  • Inflammation: 0 - 7 days after injury
  • Repair: 7 - 21 days after injury
  • Maturation and Remodeling: > 21 days after injury

Timely and accurate diagnosis can help to expedite healing time and minimize down time.

How this affects function

The healing process causes your body to produce tough, dense scar tissue in the affected area. This scar tissue binds up and ties down tissues that need to move freely. As scar tissue builds up, muscles become shorter and weaker, tension on tendons cause tendonitis, and nerves can become trapped. This can cause reduced range of motion, loss of strength, and pain. If a nerve is trapped you may also feel tingling, numbness, and weakness.