If you’ve ever nursed a bruised or sprained ankle, you’ve suffered a soft tissue injury. Soft tissue injuries comprise a handful of injuries affecting the soft portions of our bodies including fat, muscle, tendons, and ligaments. It’s a wide definition with different particular injuries that present in very different ways. Here’s a deeper look.
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What Is Soft Tissue?
Soft tissue is any part of the body other than bones and organs which help it to move and function, such as muscles, tendons, fat, fibrous tissue, nerves, or blood vessels.
A soft-tissue injury that occurs in one of these body parts can be classified as one of the following:
- Contusions or bruises.
- Sprains and strains.
Contusions occur when blood bleeds into the tissue without breaking the skin. You might notice pain and swelling in the area as well as discoloration where the blood has spread.
A sprain takes place when you’ve twisted a joint, such as an ankle, knee, or wrist, causing a partial tear to a ligament.
Similarly, a strain involves injury to your tendons or muscles. In a strain, no tear has taken place, but you’ve stressed the tendon or muscle through overuse in some way.
Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendons caused by overuse. Similarly, bursitis is an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs between joints, also caused by overuse. These injuries typically are seen in joints, such as wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. They can also occur in your hips or feet.
What Are the Symptoms of Soft-Tissue Injuries?
Soft tissue injuries can occur when you’re struck by blunt force, you trip and fall, or you overuse a muscle or tendon.
Typically, some the first symptoms of soft tissue injuries are pain and inflammation. With bruising, you will also notice tenderness and discoloration at the site of the injury.
Strains and sprains can appear to be similar and should be diagnosed by a doctor. Similarly, tendonitis and bursitis are best diagnosed by a doctor, but both will present with swelling and pain either in a tendon or a joint.
Athletes commonly experience an array of soft-tissue injuries. Even recreational tennis or basketball players can experience these injuries when they are consistently using the same muscles and body parts through repetitive motions.
What Are the Treatments?
The treatments for a soft-tissue injuries vary by type. Experts at UPMC Orthopaedic Care will diagnose your injury and create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.
If you experience a contusion, you should follow the RICE method of rest, ice, compression, and elevation to relieve symptoms. The same approach can be used for strains and sprains. In some cases, a serious strain might require surgery.
More serious injuries might require medical intervention, such as a visit to the doctor or emergency department, as well as follow-up care, medications, or procedures.
Tendonitis and bursitis can be treated with the RICE method, but more serious interventions may be required. If tendonitis causes severe pain, you might be given medication. If the affected tendon is torn, you might need surgery. Similarly, bursitis is caused by an infection that can be treated with antibiotics.
What Is the Recovery Like For a Soft Tissue Injury?
Like the injuries themselves, recovery times for soft tissue injuries will vary. Contusions may remain tender and visible for several days, while a more serious strain or sprain can take months to recover from.
Avoiding Soft Tissue Injuries
There are ways to avoid soft tissue injuries of every kind, even while enjoying your favorite sports or physical activities. All of the prevention methods center around how you partake in these activities and how you prepare for them.
Additionally, you can avoid injuries by limiting the frequency, intensity, and duration with which you take part in the associated activities. Here are some tips:
- Use the right equipment. Make sure you’re always outfitted with the proper footwear and clothing so you’re free to move about and sweat as you exercise. Wear the property safety gear, too, if you’re partaking in contact sports, for example.
- Warm up and cool down. Warm up to prepare for exercise and cool down after your activity is over. You can warm up by elevating your heart rate with light cardio and by stretching to get your muscles primed and loosened for movement. After your activity, spend 10 minutes recovering through a cool down which should involve a less intense version of the activity you’re doing, such as jogging or walking after a run.
- Get sufficient rest. Schedule rest days within your exercise regimen to ensure you aren’t using the same muscles day in and day out. It will help avoid injuries caused by overuse.
About UPMC Orthopaedic Care
When you are dealing with bone, muscle, or joint pain, it can affect your daily life. UPMC Orthopaedic Care can help. As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, we diagnose and treat a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. We provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. Our multidisciplinary team of experts will work with you to develop the treatment plan that works best for you. Our care team uses the most innovative tools and techniques to provide better outcomes. We also are leaders in research and clinical trials, striving to find better ways to provide our patients care. With locations throughout our communities, you can find a provider near you.