Building muscle is a process. A person has to push their body to it’s limits, tear their muscle tissue and then let it heal into a more amplified structure. This process, though effective, can leave muscles and soft tissues susceptible to damage. This is part of the reason why athletes and people who exercise frequently are so prone to soft tissue injury –
Soft tissue is an umbrella term for the various tendons, ligaments, muscles, and cartilage which make up our bodies. These structures provide support and stability, as well as motion and strength. As such, it is crucial for athletes to ensure that these tissues are working harmoniously – any soft tissue damage or injury can have grave consequences on their performance.
There are three types of soft tissue injury: grade I, grade II, and grade III. Grade I is the most common, and is an injury which can heal itself within a couple weeks. Comparatively, Grade II is a bit more serious and typically takes three to four weeks to heal. The other one is Grade III soft tissue injuries- they are much more serious and should be looked at and closely monitored by a doctor. These class of injuries sometimes require surgery and can take months to heal.
Soft Tissue Damage or Injury Signs:
So, how do you know if you have a soft tissue injury? Look out for these signs:
- Pain: pain comes in many forms and can occur in any part of the body. Sometimes it is sharp, shooting pain that comes on suddenly, and sometimes it is a dull ache that gradually increases in severity. If you are exercising and experience pain during certain activities, especially if the pain is concentrated in one area, you may have sustained soft tissue damage.
- Numbness: Working out pinches the nerves, especially if you have a soft tissue injury. The tissues which protect the nerves may be restructured or unable to protect nerves as they should, resulting in a lack of sensation, i.e. numbness.
- Weakness: injured muscles cannot perform as they should, leading to the sensation of weakness. If you notice that you are having trouble with certain tasks or exercises which normally come easily to you, you may be experiencing an abnormality in the muscle.
- Inability to Perform: sometimes slight weakness can lead to the lack of ability to exercise or work out. The muscles need time to repair themselves, so it is often recommended that individuals experiencing soft tissue damage take a leave. This could mean working out a different muscle group or simply resting for a couple days.
- Tingling: the sensation of tingling may be indicative of soft tissue damage. If you are experiencing tingling during certain activities, it may imply that some tissues have torn or become injured.
- Muscle Spasms: The muscle will try to repair itself when it is damaged, it will immediately begin trying to repair itself. In doing so, the muscles may spasm. If this occurs, it can be dangerous during certain exercises such as weightlifting. It is important to closely monitor spasms and avoid exercises which could cause further injury.
- Swelling: Healing properties in the blood as the body tries to repair itself can inflame soft tissues. This results in swelling, one of the tell-tale signs of soft tissue damage.
- “Knots”: stress to the muscle that occurs frequently, especially in athletes, can cause scar tissue to build up. This scar tissue is a little harder than normal muscles and can appear as a knot. These can occur all over the body and are very common. They may be indicative of tissue damage.
- Joint Instability: Soft tissues play an important role in providing the body with stability and support. Soft tissues in joints, such as ligaments or tendons, allow joints to function in a stable way and provide a range of motion. The joinIf a tendon or ligament is torn, damaged, or even snapped, the joint will become less stable.
- Cramping: muscles can contract involuntarily, causing a cramping sensation. Dehydration, lack of exercise, and overexertion of a muscle can lead to cramps. They are uncomfortable and may be an indicator of internal damage to the muscle.
So, what do you do when faced with soft tissue damage?
Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment will vary. Minor injuries such as a grade I simply require that the area be well rested, as well as avoiding strenuous activity. Sometimes icing it or taking NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) such as Ibuprofen can provide relief to the affected area. Many of these injuries will heal on their own, but if not treated properly (if you continue to work out the muscle and place more stress on it rather than resting), they can become more serious.
Invasive Treatments to Address Soft Tissue Damage
If an injury is more severe, such as a grade II or III injury, more invasive treatments may be considered. These can include physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and sometimes even surgery. There may be another option, however. The field of regenerative medicine offers treatments such as stem cell therapy. In addition and platelet-rich plasma therapy, which are effective at treating damage to soft tissues, is offered too. Using this form of therapy may prevent the need for other invasive treatments such as surgery.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, reach out to your doctor. He or she can devise a treatment plan which will allow you to get back to the exercising more quickly. Soft tissue damage is common however it could also have serious implications.