The human body is both wildly resilient to the way we treat it, and very fragile to daily trauma. In the body, soft tissue is classified as a ligament, tendon or muscle. When soft tissue gets an injury, the general reaction is normally inflammation. Inflammation may be in the form of bruised tissues, bleeding, pain or swelling. When inflammation is not addressed in good time, the situation worsens. Blood and swelling may be left in the injured part and this means more time to heal. For athletes and sports persons, long time to heal means that they are unable to resume training or competition. Serious inflammation leads to reduced movement to allow healing.
Common soft tissues injuries
Muscles, ligaments and tendons are the most commonly injured tissues. Injuries to these soft tissues mainly take place during exercise or sports activities but can also occur during normal daily activities.
Among the most common soft tissue injuries are bursitis, contusions, tendonitis, sprains and strains. These injuries may be treated promptly; However, they all take quite a long time to heal. It is a big concern when sports persons and athletes suffer any of these injuries. This is because the injuries restrain them from their sports activities.
Soft tissues injuries causes
There are two main categories of soft-tissue injuries. These are overuse injuries and acute injuries. Acute injuries result from unexpected trauma such as a twist, blow or fall. Acute injuries include sprains, contusions and strains.
On the other hand, overuse injuries occur over a period of time and not suddenly. They can result from continuous activity that injures the muscles or when the muscle doesn’t get time to heal. Overuse injuries include bursitis and tendinitis.
There are different types of acute soft-tissue injuries, based on severity and type. Acute injuries are initially treated with the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) protocol and it normally works well.
RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation)
This is the basic treatment for acute injuries and it is normally very effective.
- Rest means that the injured person should refrain from the activity that led to the injury. This should happen for a period of time or until there is recovery. In walking or making normal movements, a doctor may advise the use of crutches to avoid straining the healing tissues or muscles.
- Ice means that you use cold packs on the injured part. The cold packs can be used in intervals of 20 minutes at different times in a day. Ice should, however, not be applied directly on the skin.
- Compression on an injured soft-tissue is mainly done using a compression bandage. The bandage is normally elastic to prevent more swelling and loss of blood.
- Elevation is a way of reducing swelling. It works by having the injury elevated higher than the person’s heart when resting or seated.
When you have a sprain, it means that you have a ligament tear or stretch. The body’s joints are supported and stabilized by ligaments, or firm bands of connective tissue that join the ends of bones. For instance, the thigh bone is connected to the shinbone by knee ligaments. This connection enables human beings to walk.
There are body parts that easily and frequently suffer from sprains. The parts include knees, ankles and wrists. You can sprain your ankle when your foot makes an inward turn, putting a lot of pressure on the outer ankle ligaments. On the other hand, you can get a sprained knee when you experience an abrupt twist. You can have a sprain wrist when you fall onto hands that are outstretched.
Sprains can be categorized depending on how severe they are:
- Mild or grade one sprain – this refers to minimal stretching and little destruction of the ligament fibers.
- Moderate or grade two sprain – this means that the ligament is slightly torn. The moderate sprain may result in laxity or unexplainable looseness in the injured joint. This looseness occurs when the joint is moved in particular ways.
- Severe or grade three sprain – This means that the ligament is torn completely. This level of sprain may lead to great instability.
These categories of sprains vary depending on the intensity. However, each of the categories is characterized by inflammation, pain, swelling and bruising. The most common form of sprains treatment is the RICE protocol as well as physical therapy.
For sprains that are moderate, there is a necessary bracing period. The bracing may involve wearing CAM walking boots to assist and support mobility of a sprained ankle. For severely strained sprains, there may be need for surgery to repair ligaments.
Strains are injuries that occur on tendons or muscles. Tendons can be defined as fibrous tissue cords that join muscles to the bone. Strains mainly occur in the legs or the back. In the legs, strains will mainly occur in the hamstring.
Just like in sprains, strains can be the simple stretching of the tendon or muscle. A strain may affect part of a muscle or tendon or the entire tendon or muscle. The main symptoms of a strain include muscle spasms, inflammation, cramping, pain, swelling and muscle weakness.
Sports persons are the ones at the highest risk of getting hamstring strains. These include wrestlers, soccer players, boxers, athletes, and more. Sports, such as tennis and gymnastics, need high gripping. In most cases, injuries from such activities are hand sprains. Those who get elbow strains mainly do so after engaging in racquet, throwing as well as contact sports.
A strain is mainly treated like a sprain. The treatment is the basic RICE protocol treatment; rest, ice, compression followed by elevation. After the RICE protocol treatment, one should engage in simple exercises for pain relieving. These simple exercises also help in restoring movement. Should the strain be very severe, there may be a need for surgery.
You can get bruises when a direct blow or blows from a blunt object hit some part of your body. When your body is hit by the object, it crushes your underlying muscle fibers as well as the connective tissue. When it comes to bruises, the skin is not broken.
You can also get bruised when you fall or when you jam your body against a hard surface. When the skin gets discolored, it means that blood has been pooled around the injured part. Majority of bruises are normally mild and can be easily healed through the RICE protocol. If a bruise or contusion persists, you should seek medical treatment to rule out the possibility of permanently damaged soft tissues.
Overuse soft tissue injuries Tendinitis
This is irritation or inflammation of the tendon or the outer layer of a tendon (sheath). Tendinitis occurs when there is continuous aggravation and a sequence of small stress on the tendon. Tendinitis is normally characterized with pain and swelling that gets worse when one engages in activity.
A common example is the Achilles tendon, which may thicken or swell when tiny tears occur on this tendon. For golfers, swimmers, baseball and tennis players, tendinitis occurs often in the elbows and shoulders. For aerobic dancers, runners, basketball and soccer players, tendinitis mainly occurs in the ankles and knees.
Treatment of tendinitis may vary. To eliminate the stress on the tendon, rest is a good way to treat and manage it. Exercises, anti-inflammatory treatment, splinting and steroid injections are also used to rectify muscle imbalance and boost flexibility. When the inflammation continues to occur consistently, it may lead to significant tendon damage that may need surgery to treat.
Bursae are tiny jelly-like sacs that are found in the entire body, including around the heel, elbow, hip and shoulder. These bursae have a small quantity of fluid and are found between soft tissues and bones. They serve as cushions between the soft tissues and bones to lower the amount of friction.
Bursitis is, therefore, the inflammation or injury of a bursa. The bursa may swell if there is continuous small stressing and overuse of the bursa. This kind of inflammation can easily be managed through changing of activity as well as anti-inflammatory medicine. Should the pain and swelling continue, there may be need for fluid to be removed from the bursa. There may also be the need for injection of corticosteroid medication.
The steroid medication acts as an anti-inflammatory drug and is stronger than oral medication. The corticosteroid injections normally work to stop swelling and pain, and surgery is quite rare when it comes to bursitis. It may, however, be necessary to perform an operation when a bursa gets infected to drain fluid from the bursa.
Should the infection in the bursa remain, there may be need to remove the bursa. This bursa removal process (excision) can be conducted using a standard open procedure (standard incision). It may also be carried out like an arthroscopic procedure using small incisions from surgical apparatus. Medical doctors should explain the appropriate procedure for a particular situation.
How to prevent soft tissue injury
It is common for injuries to occur when one suddenly increases the intensity, frequency, and duration of physical activities. However, it is possible to prevent most of the soft tissue injuries and muscle spasms through proper training and conditioning.
You can also prevent soft tissue injury through:
- Use of proper equipment during activities: For sports activities, get the most appropriate shoes and ensure to replace them once they wear out. Engage in your favorite sport activity with loose-fitting and comfortable attire to allow you to move freely. Loose-fitting clothes are good for releasing heat during sport activities and light enough to move freely. When exercising from home, engage in activities that are manageable and convenient to avoid injury. Activities such as yoga, simple stretches and jogging are very effective.
- Work on balanced fitness. Have a complete fitness program and not just for physical fitness. Incorporate strength training, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility. Also ensure that you add activities to your program cautiously and not suddenly. Incorporate them one at a time to give the body time to adjust. It is also important to have warm up exercises before you engage in your main activities. Warming up allows your body to adjust and gain momentum. Warm up also loosens your muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons, while increasing blood flow to your heart and body.
- Consume enough water. Drinking enough water helps in preventing dehydration, heat stroke and heat exhaustion. 15 minutes before you begin to exercise, take 1 pint of water and 1 more pint of water when you cool down. As you continue with your exercising, take a drink of water every 20 minutes in between.
- Take time to cool down. Always conclude your exercise program with cooling down. Take double the warm up time to cool down. In cooling down, work on slowing your motions and let your movements be less intense. This should be the case almost 10 minutes before you completely stop. Basically, do not stop your exercise routine abruptly, but do it slowly.
- Engage in stretching. Start your stretching slowly and keenly and continue until you gain muscle tension. Let every stretch last for 10 to 20 seconds and then release it carefully and slowly. Inhale before every stretch and exhale as you release it. Every stretch should be done once and not to a point that is extreme for the body.
- Take time to rest. Set aside a few days off from intense exercise. The days should be regular for the body to adjust. When you feel pain or fatigued, have some rest.
Also, avoid waiting for the weekend so as to exercise. Make a point of exercising daily as it makes the body accustomed to exercising. Exercise routines do not have to take long hours. If you have a busy schedule, factor in even just 15 or 20 minutes of your day. This is enough time and can be achieved each day. If an equipped field or gym is not near your reach, simple activities such as swimming and jogging are good and effective.