How Long Do Soft Tissue Injuries Take to Heal
Everyone has likely experienced a soft tissue injury at some point during their life — from injuries as severe as a torn rotator cuff to as simple as an ankle sprain. And the first question usually asked is, how long is this going to take to heal?
The answer to that question is complicated and depends on a host of factors and conditions. Not all soft tissue is created equally, and therefore, not all soft tissue injuries take the same amount of time or rehabilitation to recover.
What Is Soft Tissue?
Soft tissue plays a crucial role in your body’s makeup, movement, and ability to function. It is the unhardened parts of your body, such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments, that help support and connect your body.
Each soft tissue, from muscles to ligaments, is constructed of collagen, elastin, and ground substance. Ground substance is a gel-like material that is active in the movement and development of tissues. The amount of each of these in the soft tissue gives it its properties and helps determine its function. These properties include strength, the ability to stretch (extensibility), and the ability to recoil from being stretched (elasticity).
What Is a Soft Tissue Injury?
If you have ever sprained your ankle, you know just how severe the pain from that type of injury can be.
These kinds of injuries are relatively common in sport or physical activity. They are usually the result of overstressed muscles, which become weaker over time, leading to a soft tissue injury.
Common types of soft tissue injuries include sprains, strains, tendinitis, bursitis, and other contusions. Sometimes more severe and serious soft tissue injuries occur, such as rotator cuff, Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) injuries.
Stages of Healing for Soft Tissue Injuries
The amount of time it takes for a soft tissue injury to heal depends on many factors and is specific to each person and their circumstances. Those factors include a person’s age, fitness level, chronic conditions, and other medical issues. It also depends on how severe the injury is and what tissue or body part is injured.
Soft tissue healing occurs in three phases: inflammatory, proliferation, and remodeling. Because of the nature of soft tissue healing, these phases often overlap to some degree.
Inflammatory Phase: 0 – 6 days
This first phase begins on the day the injury occurs and can last up to six days. Swelling around the injury is extremely common in this phase. Healing cells start their work of cleaning up and removing the dead tissue.
Proliferation Phase: Day 6 – Day 24
Swelling will subside as the dead tissue is removed, and type III collagen is introduced to produce new tissue. During this phase, the injured area will be quite weak because this newer tissue does not possess the same qualities and strength as normal tissue.
Remodeling Phase: Day 21 – 2 years
Finally, that type III collagen is converted into type I collagen, which is present in scar tissue. As soft tissue goes through the healing process, the body creates scar tissue to replace the damaged tissue. This last phase can take up to two years for the injury to completely heal, depending on its type and severity.
With the loss of muscle mass and strength from a soft tissue injury, many people need the help of physical therapy to regain strength and mobility in the affected body part. This is important so that the person can use that body part normally again.
How BFR Can Help with Soft Tissue Injury Healing
Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training offers significant benefits for physical therapy and soft tissue injury rehabilitation.
When blood flow is restricted, the injured area recruits muscle fibers. These fibers help facilitate an increase in muscle mass. Furthermore, the results take less time than traditional training modalities and rehabilitation programs.
By understanding soft tissue and the phases of healing, we can better determine the sense of the time it takes for specific injuries to heal.