The timing of injury healing generally differs depending on the affected tissues. I will be talking about soft tissue knee injury; its occurrence is quite common yet remains poorly understood outside the hospital settings.
Soft tissue knee injury is a common disorder of the musculoskeletal system affecting millions of people yearly; it is the most common form of injury in sport.
In simple terms, soft tissues injury of the knee refers to damage to the structure surrounding the knees which include muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, fat, the joint and its surrounding membrane, and blood. It can occur as a result of sprain (a sudden twist), strain (an injury usually caused by overuse), or direct injuries to the muscle, tendon or ligament.
Soft tissue injury can be caused by direct impact from contact as seen in contact sports but the majority of soft tissues knee injuriesare not due to direct blow, they arise from actions producing an excessive stretch of the knee.
Rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament is among the most serious of the common knee injuries. Disruption of the anterior cruciate ligament can occur alone or with lateral or medial menisci. A strain is a soft tissue injury that occurs to a muscle or tendon while the similitude to a ligament is called sprain.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms largely depend on the mechanism of injury and the affected structures. The common sign and symptoms include:
Instability: You may have noticed from football players that the commonest symptom of a soft tissue knee injury is the loss of ability to walk; that’s why no professional football match holds without a stretcher in the stadium. The loss of movement ability usually affect the limb of impact only,
Pain: Pain is not only felt in bone fracture, but damage to any of the soft tissue structures can also present with excruciating pain. Sudden onset of pain after contact confined to the proximity, lateral or medial regions of the knee is often as a result of ligamentous or meniscal damage. Rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament is the most serious of the common knee injuries. The damage can also affect the posterior menisci ligament, the medial meniscus, and the lateral meniscus.
Sprain: They usually present acutely and are caused when the joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion resulting in ligament tear. Common affectation is to the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.
Strain: Strain is caused by sudden contraction or over stretching of muscle resulting in its partial or complete tear. It usually presents with swelling of the knee joint and possible discoloration of the surrounding skin.
The radiological study is the mainstay of diagnosis. The common investigations include an ultrasound scan and MRI which helps to outline the damage.
You might also be requested to do some blood investigations like erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and body electrolyte level; this is usually to rule out an ongoing infective or inflammatory process.
Immediate management must be instituted in suspected cases of sprain, especially first-degree sprain. The immediate management of soft tissue injury is usually following the RICER and no HARM protocol.
If anyone sustained injury around you while playing ball, for example, Rest the affected limb, apply ice, compress and then elevate after which you refer to the nearest hospital; that is the RICER protocol (R-rest, I-ice, C-compression, E-elevate, R-referral).
You must also ensure you do no HARM protocol which means: no heat, no alcohol, no running or activity, and no massage. The aim of the above protocols is to reduce bleeding and further damage to the injured area.
Further treatments will be administered in the hospital which can be as simple as cast administration, reduction of dislocation or more complex like in a meniscal tear which can require surgical interventions.
Back to where we started, you want to know how long injury takes to fully heal. The time taken to heal is dependent on your age, the severity of the injury and general health. Most soft tissue injury, however, heals conservatively within 4-6 weeks. In cases of meniscal tear, healing might take up to 3 months.