As many of us are making a welcome return to outdoor sports and activities over the summer, here at the clinic we have seen an increase in the number of soft tissue injuries, particularly lower limb injuries. By ‘soft tissues’ we mean the muscles, tendons and ligaments that attach to the bones. Soft tissue injuries can be very painful and may take a long time to heal so it’s important to know how you can prevent them. They are particularly common when you resume training or sporting activities after a period of inactivity so right now you need to be especially careful.
What are soft tissue injuries?
Common soft tissue injuries are strains, sprains and bruises (contusions), as well as conditions associated with overuse such as tendinitis and bursitis. You can sustain a soft tissue injury simply by going about your normal, everyday activities but they are particularly common when we exercise or play certain types of sport.
- Sprains are stretches or tears in the ligaments, which are the bands of connective tissue that join the ends of the bones and support the joints (such as hips, knees and ankles). A sprained ankle is the result of your foot turning sharply inwards or outwards, damaging the ligaments of your outer or inner ankle. A sprained knee can occur if your knee twists out of its normal range of movement. There are three grades of sprain: grade 1 (mild) is slight stretching and some damage to the ligament; grade 2 (moderate) is partial tearing and abnormal looseness in the joint; grade 3 (severe) is a complete ligament tear which may cause major joint instability.
- Strains are injuries to the muscles or tendons (which attach muscles to bones). A common lower limb injury is a hamstring strain, which can occur in high impact sports like football and hockey as well as activities involving running and jumping. As with sprains, strains may vary in severity from a partial to a complete tear.
- Bruises (contusions) are characterised by discolouration of the skin caused by blood vessel damage and then leaked blood pooling at the site of the injury. They are normally the result of some kind of blow or impact which crushes the muscles and connective tissues but does not break the skin.
- Bursitis is an overuse injury which causes the bursa (fluid-filled sacs in between the bones and soft tissues) to become inflamed. This causes pain and swelling and, in rare cases, the bursa may become infected.
- Tendinitis is the result of ongoing small stresses that irritate the tendon or the tendon sheath (covering) and cause it to become inflamed. People who play sports like rugby, football and basketball as well as runners and dancers are susceptible to knee and ankle tendinitis.
Types of soft tissue injuries
There are two main categories of soft tissue injuries:
- Acute injuries: These are trauma-related and normally caused by an accident (a sudden twist, fall or blow to the body). Strains, sprains and bruises are acute injuries.
- Overuse injuries: These develop more gradually over time and are caused by small tears which do not heal properly, normally due to repetitive activity or overuse. Bursitis and tendinitis are overuse injuries.
How you can avoid soft tissue injuries
Injuries can occur at any time but they are most common after a period of inactivity or when you increase the intensity or duration of your workout. Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury:
- Stretch your muscles using slow deliberate movements, holding each stretch for around 10-20 seconds.
- Warm up thoroughly to loosen your muscles, tendons and ligaments and increase your heart rate and blood flow. Running on the spot is an effective way to do this.
- Cool down after exercise by slowing your movements and lessening the intensity for around 10 minutes before you stop. We recommend taking around twice as long on your cool down as you do on your warm up.
- Keep hydrated by drinking water before, during and after exercise.
- Exercise regularly (30 minutes a day is ideal) and avoid having bursts of intense physical activity followed by nothing for a few days.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to avoid every single soft tissue injury. If you do injure yourself, try the RICE method initially (rest, ice, compression, elevation) but if that fails to relieve symptoms or the pain or swelling is severe, it’s essential to seek proper medical advice to prevent worsening symptoms or long-term damage.
Carrothers Orthopaedics Consultations – Cambridge
Carrothers Orthopaedics is currently open and scheduling clinic appointments, as well as surgery. The safety of patients and staff remains our number one priority at all times. We are happy to discuss fully the risks and benefits of any proposed orthopaedic surgery, in the context of the ongoing UK Covid-19 pandemic.
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For your convenience, we offer appointments at both Nuffield Hospital Cambridge and Spire Cambridge Lea Hospital.