Soft tissue injuries are commonly categorized depending on a time frame beginning with the date the injury occurred. Physical therapy programs can help make recovery after an injury easier on the body. Physical therapists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of soft tissue injuries. They can also determine your phase of healing and the best techniques to continue the path to recovery.
Stage 1: Acute Stage | Protection Phase
A soft tissue injury is termed as acute from the initial time of injury and while the pain, bleeding, and swelling is at its worst. Your body’s aim at this point is to protect your injury from further damage. The usual time frame for your acute symptoms to settle is two to four days post-injury, but this can vary depending on how you treat your injury.
Treatment consists of modalities such as:
- Electrical stimulation
to help control inflammation and pain. Gentle movement can be added to maintain mobility.
Stage 2: Sub-Acute Stage | Repair Phase
A soft tissue injury is termed as sub-acute when the initial acute phase makes a transition to repairing the injured tissues. This phase commonly lasts up to six weeks post-injury when your body is busy laying down new soft tissue and reducing the need to protect your injury as the new scar tissue begins to mature and strengthen.
- Modalities are still used as needed for inflammation.
- Strengthening exercises are added as tolerated to stabilize around the injured area and begin to increase function.
Stage 3: Late Stage | Remodelling Phase
Your body does not magically just stop tissue healing at six-week post-injury. Healing is a continuum. At six weeks post-soft tissue injury your healing tissue is reasonably mature but as you stretch, strengthen and stress your new scar tissue it often finds that it is not strong enough to cope with your increasing physical demand.
When your body detects that a repaired structure is still weaker than necessary, it will automatically stimulate additional new tissue to help strengthen and support the healing tissue until it meets the demands of your normal exercise or physical function.
The period between six weeks and three months post-injury is commonly referred to as the remodelling phase.
- Treatment will focus on progression back to pre-injury level and modality use is minimized.
- Strengthening exercises are more dynamic and in several planes of motion.
Stage 4: Final Stage | Ongoing Repair and Remodelling
The final stage of tissue repair can last from 3 months up to 12 months. Scar tissue needs time to properly align and gain tensile strength needed for the forces placed on it. This phase focuses on improving the quality of the new tissue and preventing re-injury.
- Treatment will be sport and activity specific to prepare for demands placed on the injured site.
- Education on preventing re-injury is key!
Every injury faces its own challenges and breakthroughs. For more detailed information about a specific soft tissue injury reach out to your physical therapist. They can bring you successfully through each stage of recovery after an injury.