There are many types of soft tissues in the body. Examples of soft tissue include muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, cartilage, and skin. Soft tissues provide structure, support, and protect other structures and organs of the body.
Healing often occurs improperly due to injured soft tissues and their roles in the body. This is especially true for joint structures like tendons, ligaments, and cartilage- whose poor circulation leads to prolonged healing.
Strain VS Sprain
There is often confusion on the difference between a strain and a sprain. The difference lies on the injured structure, a tendon or ligament respectively. Both strains and sprains are stretch injuries.
Strains appear when overstretching of a muscle or tendon occurs. The stretch can be classified into one of three stages of injury.
Stage 1- There is no major tear, overstretching in a tendon or muscle occur. Torn fibers within the soft tissue are subject to injury. While stage 1 strain is the least severe type, these can progress to a serious injury if not allowed to heal properly.
Stage 2- This is when there is a partial tear of the tendon or muscle- the structure loosens. A partial tear in a tendon or muscle will lower the stability of a joint, the bones rub against each abnormally increasing friction, injury, and pain.
Stage 3- This is a complete tear of a tendon or muscle- the structure and joint become dysfunctional. A complete tear of soft tissues requires reconstruction- this usually means surgery followed by physical therapy. Prolotherapy techniques may also be used to restore function and stability to an injured tendon.
Overstretching ligaments leads to injuries called sprains. Sprains follow the same three stages of injury and strain.
Stage 1- There is no major tear. Overstretching occurs, but the injury doesn’t go beyond fibers within the ligament.
Stage 2- There is a partial tear in the ligament- the structure loosens affecting the stability of the joint. Abnormal rubbing between bones deteriorates articular cartilage, the injury progresses, and pain persists.
Stage 3- The ligament is completely torn and the joint becomes dysfunctional. Reconstruction is required- this means surgery, regenerative treatments, and physical therapy
Soft Tissue Healing
Soft tissues of the joint (tendons and ligaments) have poor circulation. This prolongs the healing process as components of healing travel through the blood- poor circulation means less healing components.
When we ignore pain, it is possible to further aggravate an injury. This is a big problem! The most common response to soft tissues injury is to take over-the-counter painkillers (NSAIDS like ibuprofen) and go on with our lives.
Drugs don’t make the injury go away, they give a false perception that makes us more likely to aggravate the injury. While anti-inflammatories can help with the pain, they opposed the healing process (inflammation) and prolong the injury.