Soft tissue injuries cover any injury to muscles, tendons and ligaments, i.e. soft tissue as opposed to bone tissue. Anybody suffering soft tissue injury, unless it is superficial, is advised to seek medical attention to make sure that there has not been either a joint dislocation or bone fracture, in which cases these will need to be treated first.
Where the injury affects soft tissue only, the standard approach is to follow the RICE Protocol – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation:
Immediately after the injury, the affected part of the body must be protected from further injury and allowed to rest. This would involve putting no weight on any affected joint and if necessary, using crutches to move around for the 24-48 hour period after the injury.
Application of ice to the affected area (recommended for 20 mins at a time every 2-3 hours during the 24-48 hours after injury) will constrict the blood vessels and minimise bleeding. Recent research indicates that ice may in fact delay longer term recovery, however in the short term it does give immediate relief of symptoms.
Compression of an injury using bandages will also minimise any bleeding (although it's important to not wrap bandages too tight as they may interrupt blood flow – if skin below the bandage turns blue or if there is a slight numbness this indicates the bandaging is too tight).
The affected injury should if possible be raised above the level of the heart, which should reduce any symptoms such as pain, swelling and throbbing.
Short Term Management
Pain and inflammation can be managed for a short period by using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication ('NSAIDs') such as ibuprofen.
A useful memory jogger for what not to do after sustaining a soft tissue injury is 'HARM'. This is a reminder to avoid…
- Heat (e.g. heat packs, saunas, hot showers of baths).
- Alcohol consumption.
- Running (or any form of exercise which raises the heartrate).
- Massage of the injury site.
All of these will increase swelling and bleeding and delay recovery.
Longer Term Management
Longer term management of more serious tissue injuries generally involves a rehabilitation exercise program which will focus on regaining full movement, strengthening the muscles in the affected area and possibly a technique known as 'procioreceptive training' which encourages the body to regain its internal sense of where a limb or part of the body is – this is sometimes impaired after joint injury. Where there are symptoms of this impairment (for example poor balance control) procioreceptive training may be necessary. Surgery is rarely required.