Muscle and tendon injuries happen all the time. Injuries are responsible for a significant percentage of our medical system: emergency departments, rehabilitation (like physical therapy), and surgical centers to name a few. Recovering from an injury depends on so many factors: severity, what tissue was injured, and personal factors (age, health history, etc.).
Identifying when bone is healed is easy; a quick X Ray can give a lot of confidence that a bone is healed or if it still needs time to recover. For soft tissues – tendons, ligaments, and muscles – imaging isn’t quite as reliable. If the injury was more sudden, an MRI can certainly show signs of healing, but getting regular MRIs is incredibly time consuming and expensive. An MRI may show that a tissue is healed, but there could still be pain, weakness, or other deficits that can limit you.
Muscle and tendon injuries are usually graded as either a I, II, or III. Grade I is a mild injury and tends to recover fully within 2-3 weeks. Grade II indicates that there was some partial tearing of the tissue and typically takes longer to heal, somewhere around 4-6 weeks. Grade III refers to a complete tear of the tissue, and “recovery” is dependent on your course of action – surgery, rehab, or doing nothing. The recovery times listed only refer to physiological healing times, but not necessarily when you feel “normal” again or when the pain stops.
Muscles and tendons require regular usage to appropriately develop and maintain their normal functioning. The exception is a partial tearing or surgery where motion must be limited until healing is finished. Otherwise, tendons will “soften” and become more likely to tear again in the future if they aren’t loaded appropriately. Muscles will weaken which makes future injury more likely. Ligaments don’t necessarily need to be loaded, but the muscles and tendons around those ligaments need to be loaded so they can limit the load on the ligament.
Those healing times above mostly tell you what you shouldn’t do in those times. For an acute injury, avoid painful activities and let those tissues heal and allow any pain and inflammation to settle down. Gradually building activity back up will be necessary, but that can take a lot of trial and error. It can be easy to re-aggravate a soft tissue injury and have to start over if you’re not taking the right steps.
With soft tissue injuries, professional help can be invaluable. Physical therapists, chiropractors, or your primary care providers are great places to start. Orthopedists (surgeons) can also make a recommendation for whether you need surgery right away or if you should try rehab, but you’ll usually need to get a referral to a surgeon. Whatever route you go, getting the right exercises, education, and/or medications will be necessary to make sure that you can recover and prevent further injuries in the future.
Got questions? Feel limited in what you’re able to do? The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR and Albany, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.
***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.