Chiropractor for Algonquin and Lake in the Hills
Image of physical therapy with a male physical therapist helping a female patient stretch her arm.

3 Phases of Soft Tissue Healing with Physical Therapy

Recovering from an injury to a soft tissue, such as a muscle or tendon, takes time. Find out how physical therapy is a key part of the three stages of healing.

Learn Physical Therapy's Role in the Three Phases of Soft Tissue Healing

When you’re hurting, it’s natural to want the pain to stop. Fortunately, physical therapy works as a remedy for many types of pain.

Some of those types of pain iinclude injuries to your body’s soft tissues (i.e. your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia). After an injury, the tissues go through three distinct phases of healing. Physical therapy can help speed those phases up.

In this post, we will help you understand the role physical therapy plays in this process.

What You Need to Know About Each Stage of Healing

The three phases of healing are the acute inflamatory phase, the repair phase, and the remodeling phase. As we will see below, the treatment approach for soft tissue injuries is different for each phase.

First: The Acute Inflammatory Phase

This period starts immediately after the injury and lasts for about 72 hours. During this phase, the inflamatory response causes pain, swelling, redness, and warmth around the injured area.

Second: The Repair Phase

The repair phase begins when the inflammation subsides and the body begins to repair the injured area by laying down collagen.

This process can last from 72 hours to six weeks after the injury.

Third: The Remodeling Phase

The collagen from the second phase becomes like sticky glue in this phase. The body then molds it along lines of stress so it can function the same way as the tissue it replaces. After this, the quality, orientation, and tensile strength of the collagen drastically improves.

The remodeling phase typically lasts from three weeks to 12 months. Some research indicates it may even last up to two years.

We Tailor Physical Therapy and Other Treatments to Each Phase

No two people’s healing processes will look exactly alike. You may recover more quickly than a friend, for instance.

Because of this, we at Algonquin Chiropractic prescribe specific treatments based on where a patient is at in the healing process.

Here is what that looks like for each phase of healing:

Treatments During the Acute Inflammatory Phase

The goal of physical therapy during the acute phase is to reduce pain and inflammation. These are the treatments we typically recommend for acute injuries:

  • Rest – Take it easy to prevent further harm.
  • Ice – There are many different ways to treat an acute injury with ice, including ice massage, cold gel packs, cold packs worn over a specific body part, and ice cubes in a baggie. Of course, don’t forget frozen peas!
  • Compression –  An Ace bandage or elastic compression sleeve are excellent options for keeping pressure on the injured tissue to reduce swelling.
  • Elevation – Keeping the injured body part elevated can decrease pain and swelling.

At Algonquin Chiropractic Center, we also use electrical stimulation, gentle mobilization, anti-inflammatory nutrition, Kinesio tape, and topical analgesics at this stage.

Image of soccer player applying ice to knee to illustrate physical therapy
Applying ice to your injury is recommended during the acute phase of healing to reduce swelling and inflammation.

Treatments During the Repair Phase

Because the collagen produced during this phase can be easily stretched and torn, the symptoms can vary dramatically in the first few weeks of treatment.

To treat those symptoms, the physical therapy we perform may include any of the following treatments:

  • Massage therapy to improve flexibility and restore normal functioning
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises to aid endurance and balance
  • Nutritional help to repair soft tissues
  • Orthotic therapy to correct imbalances

We encourage patients to increase activity as their pain subsides during the repair phase.

Treatments During the Remodeling Phase

Many of the treatments listed above continue at this stage with other treatments added. For example, we usually increase functional exercises and activity levels during this phase. Oftentimes, athletes are able to resume their respective sports here.

Individualized Treatment is Key

We always individualize our treatment plans to meet each patient’s needs. We base the plans on the person’s problem and how far the healing has progressed.

For example, we’ll treat a 16-year-old track athlete with a sudden onset of low back pain differently than a 55-year-old with a 10-year history of low back pain.

Our goal is to get our patients back to their job/sport/activities as soon as humanly possible!

Remember that health is a journey, not a destination. Therefore, getting the best health care will go miles and pay dividends over time.

Find Out What We Can Do for You!

Algonquin Chiropractic Center in Algonquin, IL, has the experience and expertise to get you back on your feet. We can help you create a healthy living plan that fits your needs. Call 847-854-2000 to find out how our drug- and surgery-free approach can make a difference in your life.

Editor’s note: This blog was originally published on October 15, 2014 and was updated on October 19, 2016 and again on August 8, 2019.