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Soft-Tissue Injuries

What are soft-tissue injuries?

Many activities can lead to soft-tissue damage of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The result can be pain, swelling, and bruising. Soft-tissue injuries are classified as the following:

  • Bruises (contusions)

  • Sprains

  • Tendonitis

  • Bursitis

  • Stress injuries

  • Strains

Athletes and non-athletes share many similar soft-tissue injuries.

What is a bruise?

A bruise is an injury to the soft tissue. It's often caused by a blunt force, such as a kick, fall, or blow. These injuries result in pain, swelling, and discoloration because of bleeding into the tissue. Treatment for bruises includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E.). More serious bruises may need to be examined by a doctor.

What is a sprain?

Illustration showing the three ligaments involved in ankle sprains/strains
Click Image to Enlarge

A sprain is a partial tear to a ligament. It's often caused by a wrench or twist. Sprains often affect the ankles, knees, or wrists. The treatment for a sprain includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E.). If the ligament is completely torn, surgical repair may be needed.

What is tendonitis?

Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon, a flexible band of tissue that connects muscle to bones. Tendonitis is often due to an overuse injury in the affected area from repetitive motion. Areas commonly affected include the elbow, hand, wrist, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, and foot. Often the tendonitis is named for the sport or movement that triggers the inflammation, such as tennis or golfer's elbow, swimmer's shoulder, and jumper's knee.

Treatment involves healing the inflamed area with rest, compression, elevation, and anti-inflammatory medicine. Ice may be used immediately after the injury. Stretching and strengthening exercises can gradually be added to help avoid further injury. Steroid injections may be used for some types of tendonitis if chronic pain persists. If a tendon is completely torn, surgery may be required.

What is bursitis?

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that provides a cushion between bones and muscles or tendons. Like tendonitis, bursitis is often caused by overuse injury, but can also be caused by direct injury to a joint. Bursitis commonly affects the shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, ankle, and foot.

Treatment involves rest, compression, elevation, and anti-inflammatory medicine. Ice may be used immediately after injury to reduce swelling. Injections may be needed if pain and swelling persist. If the bursitis is caused by an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Surgery is rarely needed.

What is a stress fracture?

A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone. It commonly occurs in the weight-bearing bones of the legs, hips, and feet. They are most often caused by overuse and increase in physical activity. At first, treatment includes stopping the activity that caused the fracture, elevation, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicine. Continued treatment includes rest, decreasing weight-bearing on the affected area, shoe inserts or braces, and in some cases, a cast. If the crack in the bone progresses to a complete break, surgery may be required.

What is a strain?

A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, and is often caused by overuse, force, or stretching. The treatment for a strain is rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E). If a tear in the muscle or tendon occurs, surgical repair may be needed.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Thomas N Joseph MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
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