Aside from bones and organs, most of the body consists of soft tissue, which is comprised of muscles, fat, tendons, ligaments, skin, connective tissue, blood vessels, nerves and more. It’s perhaps not a wonder that the majority of physical injury affects the soft tissues of the body. Because soft tissue encompasses such a large area, it’s very difficult to generalize about things like recovery and healing following an injury. However, there are several very generic similarities regardless of the location or type of soft tissue injury in question that vary little regardless of the type of injury sustained. It’s these similarities that create tendences in terms of treatment and recovery time in most cases of injury to the soft tissues of the body.
Rest is one of the most important parts of properly treating injuries to various parts of the body. Limiting use and reducing mobility if applicable is important for numerous reasons. For one, rest helps reduce the risk of further injury to the area. Secondly, resting allows for internal healing processes to begin taking place. Although rest may not commonly be associated with pain management techniques, limiting use of the affected area can not only minimize the amount of pain and discomfort associated with the soft tissue injury, but can also help to minimize swelling and inflammation, which can both lead to and be responsible for additional pain and discomfort.
Immobilization may be furthered by the use of devices such as crutches, splints, braces and wraps. In the case of more challenging areas such as in the case of a shoulder injury, slings can also be used to help minimize movement and therefore reduce discomfort and minimize the risk of further damage. Resting may seem like a step in the wrong direction in terms of reducing the amount of time it takes to recover from an injury, but quite the opposite is typically true. With the exception of physical therapy related movements that are beneficial, resting the injury properly almost always contributes to a reduction in recovery time.
Another common treatment for a soft tissue injury is cold therapy. This is because in many cases, swelling and inflammation are associated with these types of injuries and ice and cold not only help to reduce these symptoms but the discomfort that goes along with them. Using ice packs and cold compresses intermittently for periods of time multiple times throughout the day can be very useful in most cases of soft tissue injury. After a period of time has passed and inflammation and swelling have subsided, sometimes alternating cold and heat therapy is appropriate, although this may vary depending on the type of injury. Using ice may also help to speed recovery time because the reduction in inflammation provided by the cold therapy may allow for more rapid healing of the injured areas.
This same train of thought has given way to a newer use for a decades’ old technology. A cryotherapy cold sauna, originally developed for use in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, has quickly become a go-to tool for persons suffering from various types of soft tissue injury. The devices, large chambers that allow a person to enter fully where they are enveloped in chilling, dry gases, are thought to work by rapidly cooling the exterior of the skin and therefore prompting a wealth of beneficial physiological responses. The therapy purportedly stimulates the damage repairing immune system while also supplying a surprisingly comfortable blanket of cold that functions similarly to a supercharged ice bath to speed performance recovery and engage the body’s endocrine system to supply feel good chemicals throughout the body. In a recent podcast, Tony Robbins explains one of the most important benefits of cryotherapy that has prompted his regular use of the devices, and that is their ability to reduce inflammation. Since inflammation is often present in the case of a soft tissue injury, it’s not surprising that the cryotherapy procedure has become more and more popular in treating these types of problems. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the field of professional athletes, many of which find the procedure useful for everything from leg muscle pain to minor injuries encountered in their line of work.
Two other important elements are staples of early treatment to injuries affecting the soft tissue of the body. Elevation and compression if possible are both almost always indicated where appropriate. With obvious exceptions, elevating areas that are injured to a level above the heart can help to reduce swelling and therefore discomfort.
Compression serves the same purposes, and also helps provide stabilization, support and help in reducing the risk of further damage, which is not uncommon in the case of a soft tissue injury. When used properly and when combined with rest, medications if applicable as well as cold therapy, elevation and compression are both useful in shortening recovery time as well as reducing pain and discomfort in the case of a wide variety of injuries to the soft tissue found in the body.
Each individual injury is different and unique and treatment and recovery times will depend on many factors such as the severity of the injury, the overall health and physical state of the person sustaining the injury, home care effectiveness and much more. Proper diagnosis of the condition is also important, and diagnostic testing and evaluation from a health care provider is imperative, especially in the case of injuries that are slow to heal. However, for many minor cases of a soft tissue injury, rest, cold therapy, elevation, and compression are typically adequate. Speedier recovery can be had from following the direction of a healthcare provider as well as considering new available technologies that impact soft tissues by putting a new spin on a tried and true method of treatment.