3 Phases of Soft Tissue Healing with Physical Therapy
Learn the 3 Stages of Healing, and When Physical Therapy Plays Its Part
When you’re hurting, it’s natural to just want the pain to stop. But it’s helpful to understand what your body is going through, and how physical therapy can help.
Your body’s soft tissues – muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia – are often injured. When this happens, the tissues go through three distinct phases of healing. You will need physical therapy to bring you back up to speed.
We are sharing this information to keep you informed and improve your health and well-being. It will also help you understand your health care, including physical therapy.
What You Need to Know About Each Stage of Healing
Your treatment approach for soft tissue injuries is different for each stage of healing.
First: The Acute Inflammatory Phase
This period starts immediately after the injury and goes to about 72 hours after the injury. It is the inflammatory response that causes pain, swelling, redness, and warmth around the injured area.
Second: The Repair Phase
This phase is when the inflammation has gone down, and your body begins to repair the injured area.
The body lays down “type 3 collagen,” which is weaker than normal collagen. In fact, it easily stretches and tears. This process can last from 72 hours to 6 weeks after the injury.
Third: The Remodeling Phase
Collagen is similar to sticky glue at first in this stage. Your body molds it along lines of stress so it can function the same way as the tissue it replaces.
This phase is largely one of an improvement in the quality, orientation, and tensile strength of the collagen. It lasts from 3 weeks to 12 months. Some research indicates it may even last up to 2 years.
Physical Therapy, Other Treatments Are Tailored to Each Stage
Healing is an individual process. You may recover more quickly than a friend, for instance.
Specific treatments are usually used for each stage in the healing process.
Goals in this stage include reducing pain and inflammation. These are standard recommendations for acute injuries:
- Rest –Take it easy to prevent further harm.
- Ice – Many different forms are available and effective. Ice massage, cold gel packs, cold packs worn over a specific body part, and ice cubes in a baggie can all help. Of course, don’t forget frozen peas!
- Compression – Consider an Ace bandage or elastic compression sleeve. The goal is to keep pressure on the injured tissue to keep swelling down.
- Elevation – Raising the injured body part decreases pain and swelling.
At Algonquin Chiropractic Center, we use electrical stimulation, gentle mobilization, anti-inflammatory nutrition, Kinesio tape, as well as topical analgesics at this stage.
You will generate type 3 collagen at this stage. Unfortunately, this type of collagen can easily be stretched and torn. Expect a lot of ups and downs of symptoms in the first few weeks of treatment.
In this phase, we may perform manipulation, mobilizations, and physical therapy. That includes:
- 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
You will be encouraged to increase activity as your pain allows during the repair phase.
Many of the treatments above continue at this stage, but with other treatments added. Physical therapy may begin, for instance. Functional exercises and activity levels usually increase.
What’s more, patients and athletes get back to their usual sports in this phase.
Individualized Treatment is Key
We individualize our treatment plan to meet each patient’s needs. Plans are based on the person’s problem and how far 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 the patient back to their job/sport/activities as soon as humanly possible!
Health is a journey, not a destination. 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 for a consultation 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.