Soft Tissue Injuries

Soft tissue injuries are the most common form of injury in sport and day-to-day life. These include sprains, strains or bruises which can occur to joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons in various parts of the body. These can be acute injuries (that happen suddenly) or chronic injuries (those that get worse or persist over time).

Types of soft tissue injuries


A bruise occurs when there is blunt trauma to an area, which causes compression and bleeding into the surrounding soft tissue.

General signs and symptoms include tenderness and swelling at the impact point and discolouration due to the bleeding.


A sprain occurs when there is overstretching or tearing of ligaments between two bones. This can be due to sudden, unusual or violent twisting of the joint. Common sites for sprains include the knees, wrists and ankles.

Sprains usually result in bruising around the joint, and share the following symptoms as strains:

  • Pain and tenderness around the injury

  • Limited mobility of the area

  • Swelling

  • Limited flexibility of the joint


Unlike sprains, a strain occurs when there is overstretching or tearing of muscles or tendons. Tendons are fibrous tissue that connect the muscles with the bone in a joint. A common cause of strains is putting excessive stress on weak or tied muscles. Common sites for strains include the hamstrings, lower back and groin.

A distinguishing feature of strains compare with sprains, is the presence of muscle spasms around the injury. Apart from that, they share the same general symptoms as the injuries in themselves are very similar.

  • Pain and tenderness around the injury

  • Limited mobility of the area

  • Swelling

  • Limited flexibility of the joint

Management of soft tissue injuries

Acute soft tissue injuries can be well managed at home if there are no other complicating factors. Basic first aid steps are usually sufficient to help the body heal up from these injuries.


The acronym of R.I.C.E. stands for:

  • Rest

  • Ice

  • Compression

  • Elevation

Resting the injury allows the body to heal the area without any extra stresses placed on it. It is recommended that there is no physical activity on the injury for at least 48-72 hours.

By icing the injury, blood flow to the area is slowed, which in turn reduces the rate the body forms inflammation at the area. Replace the ice packs every 10-20 minutes, making sure that there is a wet towel between the ice and the skin to prevent ice burn.

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Compression using a bandage will also reduce blood flow to the injury area too, working together with icing to reduce inflammation. The bandage should be wrapped from below the joint and through to above the joint, ensuring that it is firm but not too tight.

Elevating the limb of the injury above the heart whenever possible prevents swelling.

If symptoms do not improve after 24-48 hours, or they worsen, medical advice should be sought, in case there is a more severe underlying injury.

Do no H.A.R.M.

H.A.R.M. should not be applied to acute soft tissue injuries. The acronym stands for the following:

  • Heat

  • Alcohol

  • Rubbing

  • Massage

Although it may be useful in long-term chronic conditions, the above should be avoided in recent acute injuries where it may worsen the injury.


Paracetamol products are the first-line treatment for soft-tissue injuries and are generally safe for use by people with no other medical conditions, and are readily available over-the-counter.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Nurofen®) and diclofenac (Voltaren®) are products which can also be considered. These medications have the added benefit of being available as oral preparations as well as topical gels. Due to possible interactions with existing medical conditions and concurrent medications, please ask our pharmacists for advice before using NSAIDs.

When to see a doctor

Most mild strains and sprains should heal up within a 3-4 days, with return to normal physical activity possible 1-6 weeks, depending on the patient’s age, health and extent of injury.

For any injuries that do not improve, or swelling and pain worsens within the first 24-48 hours, medical advice should be sought.

If there is a severe deformity of the joint, severe tenderness (which could include being unable to bear weight on the joint), or a tingling, burning or numb sensation that is localised or radiating, medical advice should also be sought as there could be other issues at play.


  • Warming up, stretching and cooling down before and after playing sports.

  • Exercising regularly with correct footwear.

  • Drinking water before, during and after play.

  • When playing sports, wearing protective equipment, such as shin guards, mouthguards and helmets.

  • Allowing adequate recovery time between exercise sessions.

  • Performing to your physical capabilities and avoiding activities that cause pain.

  • Have regular check-ups with your doctor.

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