Soft tissues are tissues within your body that help envelope, support and connect the structures around it. Examples of such soft tissues include your muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons. Soft tissue injuries refer to damage to any of these structures that can lead to pain, swelling, discomfort or a lack of mobility. These injuries can have a variety of causes with different intensities.
Soft tissue injuries are categorised into two types based on their severity and the way in which the injury came about.
Types Of Soft-Tissue Injuries Based On Severity
Soft injuries may be categorised as Grade 1, Grade 2 or Grade 3 based on their severity.
Grade 1: This is the least severe type of soft tissue injury and is caused when the tissue fibres get overstretched. Grade 1 injuries usually affect only a small portion of the soft tissue fibre allowing for a faster and easier recovery over the course of a few days or a couple of weeks. Mild swelling and tenderness in the region of the injury are typical symptoms.
Grade 2: A Grade 2 injury is slightly more severe. It involves a partial tear of the soft tissue fibres, although the tissue still remains intact. The swelling, tenderness and pain are more pronounced and the healing time can be considerably longer than a Grade 1 injury. It could take anywhere from about 6 weeks to a couple of months for a Grade 2 injury to heal.
Grade 3: A Grade 3 injury is the most serious. It involves a total rupture of the soft tissue. There is considerably more swelling than Grade 1 or Grade 2 injuries along with a significant amount of instability in the affected joint structure. Inability to use the injured limb is a clear indication of a Grade 3 injury. Recovery can take anywhere from more than 6 weeks to a year depending on the structure that was injured and the type and severity of the injury.
Types Of Soft-Tissue Injuries Based On Cause
Soft tissue injuries can be broken down into two broad categories depending on the cause – acute injuries and long term or overuse injuries.
Acute injuries are caused by a sudden trauma to the region. They are common in contact sports or accidents. Acute injuries can be classified as:
- Strains – A strain is an injury to a muscle or the tendon that attaches the muscle to a bone. This type of injury is common in sports that involve a lot of explosive movements such as sudden starts and stops as well as contact sports. Repeated strains generally lead to significant muscle weakness in the injured region and can lead to cramping and spasms.
- Sprain – Sprains are similar to strains with one significant difference. These injuries involve an overstretch or tear of a ligament, which is the soft tissue that connects two bones. These structures provide stability to joint structures. Any injury can lead to loss of joint stability and pain while performing certain movements that put pressure on the injured ligament. Sprains are commonly caused by sudden movements of a joint under pressure such as twisting your ankle.
- Contusions – Commonly known as bruises, these injuries are often a result of sudden blunt force or repeated blunt force to a soft tissue such as a fall or being punched. These actions cause swelling and bleeding underneath the skin, leading to that distinctive black and blue discolouration around the area of the injury.
Overuse injuries occur due to a movement or action that’s performed repetitively over extended periods of time without giving the body enough time to repair itself. If you continue to stress a soft tissue without giving it recovery time after the action, it could lead to tendinitis or bursitis.
- Tendinitis – Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons. It is caused by multiple accumulated stresses that keep building up and eventually damage the tendon over a period of time. Symptoms include pain and swelling, which can prevent you from performing most activities that involve using the injured tendon. Basketball and racket sport players often suffer from tendinitis in the arms and shoulders, while football players and marathon runners often suffer from tendinitis of the legs.
- Bursitis – Bursae are small sacs of fluid located in between bones and soft tissue throughout the body. They help to reduce the friction between the bones and soft tissue. When a bursa becomes inflamed, it causes discomfort and pain, which may also lead to further soft tissue injury if not addressed. This can be caused by prolonged, excessive pressure on a joint.
How To Treat Soft-Tissue Injuries
The RICE procedure is the standard first-aid treatment for almost all types of soft tissue injuries. The RICE procedure involves Resting, Icing, Compressing and Elevating the injured soft tissue for the first 48 to 72 hours. These four steps help to alleviate pain and swelling and prevent further damage to the injured area.
The rest of the treatment will vary depending on the type and severity of your soft tissue injury sustained.
Most injuries involving the muscles, ligaments and tendons heal with time. Specific strengthening and stretching exercises can help strengthen these soft tissues and prevent further injury. More serious injuries, such as a complete tear of a structure, may require surgical intervention.
Contusions tend to heal on their own with time. Following the RICE protocol helps speed up the healing. Still, it is better to consult with a doctor to avoid the risk of permanent damage.
Bursitis treatment involves the use of anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, a doctor may recommend procedures to drain the fluid accumulated in the bursa. Alternatively, they may give the patient a corticosteroid injection to reduce the swelling and pain.
Surgery is usually the last resort. Doctors usually recommend surgery if the pain still persists after the initial non-invasive treatments.
When Should You See A Doctor?
It is always advisable to get a thorough check-up after any kind of injury, regardless of how minor it may seem. Some injuries may be more complicated than the visible symptoms indicate. A doctor is in the best position to recommend the right treatment after analysing the results of various diagnostic tests. You should also revisit a doctor if symptoms persist and show no improvement in the time frame suggested in the prior appointment.
If you have suffered a soft tissue injury and are thinking of claiming compensation, visiting a doctor will also help when your solicitor is putting your claim together. More information on soft tissue compensation claims can be found on our page here.