Whether you are physically active, an athlete, or just clumsy, you might have to deal with an injury at some point in your life. And, unless you consult a professional, it’s difficult to tell exactly how serious the injury is. However, you could get a fair idea of the extent of the injury with a quick look, especially if it’s a soft-tissue injury.
What Is A Soft Tissue Injury?
Soft tissue refers to the tissues that support, connect, or surround the various structures and organs of the body, including the muscles, ligaments, fascia, nerves, fibrous tissues, fat, blood vessels, synovial membranes, and tendons. Injuries to this tissue lead to pain, swelling, bruising, and damage. Based on the cause of the injury, soft tissue injuries could be divided into the following
- Acute: These injuries could occur from a known or unknown incident. The signs and symptoms of these injuries develop quickly.
- Overuse injury: These injuries occur due to repetitive friction, pulling, twisting, or compression over a long period of time.
All the different types of soft tissue injuries fall within these two categories. And, understanding each of them is key to effectively treating them.1
Acute Soft Tissue Injuries
Also known as contusions, bruises are, arguably, the most common type of soft tissue injury. They are caused when your body is hit by a direct force, such as kicking, falling, or making contact with a player.
This force results in compression and bleeding into the soft tissue. If you’ve got a bruise, you’re most likely to see swelling and discoloration at the point of injury.
Treatment options: Getting adequate rest, applying ice packs, wrapping the sore area with an elastic bandage (compression), and elevating the injured part, above the level of your heart, on pillows while sitting or lying down can ease a bruise. If you think that the bruise is serious, do consult a professional at the earliest.2
A sprain refers to a tear (partial or full) in the ligament, often caused due to a wrench or a twist. The ankles, knees, and wrists are the most susceptible to this type of injury. You might experience pain, swelling, and a reduced range of motion at the point of injury.
Treatment options: Resting, icing the injury, compressing the point of injury with an elastic wrap (to prevent swelling) and elevating the injured part of the body while resting will help relieve some of the symptoms of the injury. However, if the ligament has torn completely, you would need surgical repair.3
A strain refers to an injury to the muscle or tendon caused by muscles being overused or contracting too quickly. This results in a partial or complete tear in the muscle or tendon fibers. You might experience swelling and discoloration at the point of injury.4
Additionally, you might experience pain and difficulty in moving the injured muscle. And, considering the fact that the muscle is weaker and at risk for further injury at this point, it might be best to restrict movement and consult a professional at the earliest.5
Treatment options: Apply ice right away to the point of injury to prevent swelling, rest the pulled muscle for at least a day and elevate the injured part above the level of your heart.
Overuse Soft Tissue Injuries
Tendonitis is used to refer to inflammation of the tendon. It occurs due to an overusing the tendon due to a repetitive motion. Areas that are commonly affected include the elbow, hand, wrist, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, and foot.
You might experience pain, stiffness, and tenderness with tendonitis, especially when you try to move the injured part. Often, tendonitis is named after the sport or the movement that causes the inflammation such as tennis or golfer’s elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, and jumper’s knee.
Treatment options: Apart from resting, applying compression bands, and elevating the injured part of the body, you might need to take anti-inflammatory medicines. Eventually, stretching and strengthening exercises can help avoid further injury. If chronic pain persists, your doctor might recommend steroid injections. Lastly, if the tendon is completely torn, you might need surgery.6
This injury is caused due to an inflammation of the bursa (located between the bones and muscles or tendons). Like tendonitis, bursitis is caused due to overuse. However, it could also be caused due to direct trauma to a joint.
Bursitis commonly affects the shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, ankle, and foot. You’re most likely to experience pain, swelling, and stiffness at the point of injury.
Treatment options: Treatment for bursitis involves rest, compression, elevation, and anti-inflammatory medicine. You might need an injection if the pain and swelling persist.7
3. Stress Fracture
A stress fracture refers to a small crack in a bone, especially in the weight-bearing bones of the lower extremities like the legs, hips, and feet. It is caused due to overuse and an increase in physical activity. You might experience swelling and pain that worsens over time.
Treatment options: Initial treatment involves stopping the activity that caused the fracture, elevating the injured part of the body, and taking anti-inflammatory medicines. Long-term treatment includes rest, decreasing any weight on the affected area, braces, shoe inserts, or cast immobilization. If the crack in the bone worsens, you might need surgery.8
In order to prevent any of the above injuries, be sure to warm up before working out, train without overworking your muscles, and maintain the right form during physical activities. Additionally, wear appropriate footwear and protective equipment.9
|↑1, ↑9||Soft Tissue Injuries. Sports Medicine Australia.|
|↑2, ↑7||Soft-Tissue Injuries. University Of Rochester Medical Center.|
|↑3||Soft-Tissue Injuries. University Of Miami Health System.|
|↑4||Strains. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑5||Garrett, Jr WE. “Muscle strain injuries.” The American journal of sports medicine 24, no. 6 Suppl (1996): S2-8.|
|↑6||Almekinders, LOUIS C., and JOHN D. Temple. “Etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of tendonitis: an analysis of the literature.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 30, no. 8 (1998): 1183-1190.|
|↑8||Bennell, K., and P. Brukner. “Stress fractures in female athletes: Diagnosis, management, and rehabilitation.” Current therapeutics 39, no. 12 (1998): 13.|