How to Treat an Acute Soft Tissue Injury
Article by John Miller
What is a Soft Tissue Injury?
By definition, a soft tissue injury is any injury that is soft. That is, not hard like bone.
Soft tissue injuries include:
- Muscle Strains
- Ligament Sprains
- Tendon injuries eg tendinopathy
- Other Soft Tissue Injuries (eg fat, myofascial tissue, joint capsules, skin and other connective tissue)
Seek Professional Advice
Obviously, the best care is to seek prompt medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and its specific care. However, in the interim, you can follow the following general guidelines.
In the first three days after injury, use the R.I.C.E. method:
- Rest (to avoid pain and further damage)
- Ice (20 to 30 minutes each two to three hours)
- Compression (to support the injury and minimise swelling)
- Elevation (above your heart to assist swelling reduction)
Your chances of a full recovery will be helped if you avoid the H.A.R.M. factors in the first 48 to 72 hours.
What are the HARM Factors?
Heat: Increases swelling and bleeding. Avoid heat packs, a hot bath and saunas.
Alcohol: Increases swelling and bleeding. Plus, it can delay healing.
Running or Exercise: Aggravates the injury which increases pain, swelling and bleeding. Always check with a health professional before resume sport or exercise.
Massage: Increases swelling and bleeding. Direct massage to the injured area may aggravate the damaged tissues and is normally best avoided for the first 48 to 72 hours. Indirect massage (away from the injury site) may be helpful. Please consult your health practitioner for the best advice for your injury.
What is Your Subsequent Treatment?
While the following advice is generic and may vary depending on your injury diagnosis, there are several treatment goals during the subacute phase. These include:
Is it important to ease and safely manage your pain? While natural products such as ice and over-the-counter medications may assist you, the advice of a health professional is the safest option for you to control your pain. In some cases, the use of an electronic device such as a TENS machine may also assist your early pain relief.
Regain Full Movement
A primary aim of treatment, once the initial trauma has settled, is to regain your full joint, ligament and muscle range of motion. Your physiotherapist will identify any abnormalities and provide hands-on treatment and prescribe the relevant exercises to regain normal movement.
It is extremely important to dynamically support the muscles surrounding your injury via strengthening exercises. This is important to provide support during the early recovery phase, to prevent re-injury and return you to everyday function and sport. Your physiotherapist will prescribe and progress injury-specific exercises individualised to your needs.
An injury causes nerve pathway damage that affects your ability to control your joint position. The technical name for this is proprioception. Proprioception exercises have been shown in numerous research studies to prevent future injuries. Your physiotherapist is an expert in prescribing proprioceptive retraining that is specific to your functional and sport requirements.
Heat or Ice
Heat can be used to ease muscle soreness, increase soft tissue extensibility, increase circulation. Ice has also found to be useful even beyond the 72 hour period to reduce swelling due to excessive use and to slow your nerve conduction rate to assist pain control. If you would like advice regarding what is most suitable to you, please consult your physiotherapist.
Seek professional assistance for your prompt return to sport, work and everyday life. After assessing your injury their expert opinion will guide your treatment for the quickest and most effective treatment outcome.
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