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Sports-Related Soft Tissue Injuries

Injury to the soft tissue is the most common type of injury suffered while participating in sports, physical activity or exercise. 

What Is a Soft Tissue Injury? 

A soft tissue injury is any injury that causes damage to the skin, ligament or tendon. These injuries are classified as any trauma from an external force or overuse from physical activity that leads to an injury. For example, long-distance runners put a heavy amount of stress on their legs and feet. The result can often be trauma or strains to key areas of the lower leg like calf muscles or an Achilles tendon.

There are various types of soft tissue injuries, commonly including:

  • Contusions – Commonly known as bruises
  • Tendonitis – Inflammation, irritation or microscopic tears to the tendons
  • Bursitis – Damage to the small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, muscles and tendons around the joints
  • Stress injuries – Heavy stress to an area of soft tissue that results in pain and immobility
  • Strains/Sprains – An injury to a muscle or tendon that is often caused by overstretching, hard force or overuse

What Are the Symptoms of a Soft Tissue Injury?

The main symptom of any soft tissue injury will be pain to the injured part of the body, but pain may start somewhat mild and can often worsen over the first 48 hours following the injury. Other symptoms of soft tissue injuries can include:

  • A knot or lump on or around the site of the injury
  • Inability to put weight on the area
  • Instability of the affected joint
  • Muscle spasms or cramping
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swelling or bruising 

How Are Soft Tissue Injuries Treated?

Immediate treatment should start with the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.) Almost all soft tissue injuries will cause some degree of swelling. Over the counter medications can help with pain and swelling.

For a more severe soft tissue injury, prompt evaluation by a sports medicine provider is recommended.

Surgical Treatment

Severe soft tissue injuries may require surgical procedures to repair damage.   

Many of these surgeries can be performed arthroscopically, meaning a minimally invasive procedure where small incisions are made to repair damage. In most instances, these procedures are fairly quick and do not require an overnight hospital stay.

How Long is the Recovery Time Following a Soft Tissue Injury?

People are often surprised by the amount of time needed for a soft tissue injury to recover and wonder why it isn’t back to normal in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the body may need significantly more time for a full recovery. Your sports medicine provider will discuss recovery time with you and evaluate your progress throughout your recovery. Our goal is to get you back in the game as soon as safely possible. 

How Can Soft Tissue Injuries be Prevented?

The best methods for preventing soft tissue injuries include proper conditioning, training and using the right equipment. Other prevention measures include:

Balanced Fitness

Develop a fitness program that combines cardiovascular exercise with strength training and flexibility. Try not to overuse one area of the body and work to incorporate full-body exercises as well.


Begin stretching slowly and carefully. Stretch different areas of the body, not just those used in a particular exercise. Often times stretching can include light exercise like walking or jogging.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Jumping right into a strenuous activity without slowly easing into high-intensity movement can often cause injury. Always remember to warm up before moving to more intense exercise and end any high activity with a slow decrease, rather than abruptly stopping.

Get Plenty of Rest and Hydrate

General fatigue and muscle fatigue are often cause of injury. Get plenty of sleep and don’t overdo exercise and movement. It is also critical to drink enough water to avoid dehydration and exhaustion. Research shows that athletes should be drinking at least half of their body weight in ounces per day. For example, an athlete weighing 160 pounds should be drinking 80 ounces of water per day.

If you experience any type of soft tissue injury, the expert sports medicine providers at Banner Health can help you to recover quickly and safely.