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A soft tissue injury is the damage of muscles, ligaments and tendons throughout the body. Common soft tissue injuries usually occur from a sprain, strain, a one-off blow resulting in a contusion or overuse of a particular part of the body. Soft tissue injuries can result in pain, swelling, bruising and loss of function.[1]

Signs and symptoms


Main article: Sprain

A sprain is a type of acute injury which results from the stretching or tearing of a ligament. Depending on the severity of the sprain, the movement on the joint can be compromised since ligaments aid in the stability and support of joints. Sprains are commonly seen in vulnerable areas such as the wrists, knees and ankles. They can occur from movements such as falling on an outstretched hand or a twisting of the ankle or foot.[2]

The severity of a sprain can be classified:


Main article: Strain (injury)

A strain is a type of acute injury that occurs to the muscle or tendon. Similar to sprains, it can vary in severity, from a stretching of the muscle or tendon to a complete tear of the tendon from the muscle. Some of the most common places that strains occur are in the foot, back of the leg (hamstring), or back.[2]

Bruising (contusion)

Main article: Bruise

A contusion is the discoloration of the skin, which results from underlying muscle fibers and connective tissue being crushed. This can happen in a variety of ways such as a direct blow to the skin, or a fall taken against a hard surface. The discoloration in the skin is present when blood begins to pool around the injury.


Main article: Tendinitis

Tendinitis is a type of overuse injury to the tendons, which demonstrates signs of inflammation of tendons around a joint. Tendinitis is the most common cause of shoulder pain and also leg pain . Tendinitis occurs when there is repetitive stress on the subacromial bursa, which causes the bones to make contact with the tendons and irritate them.



Acute injuries

Bruising is a type of acute soft tissue injury
Bruising is a type of acute soft tissue injury

Any type of injury that occurs to the body through sudden trauma, such as a fall, twist or blow to the body. A few examples of this type of injury would be sprains, strains and contusions.[4]

Overuse injuries

An overuse injury occurs when a certain activity is repeated frequently and the body does not have enough time to recover between occurrences. Examples include bursitis and tendinitis.[4]

Commonly injured tissues

With examples of each. Parentheses indicate location in body

Anterior cruciate ligament (knee), medial collateral ligament (knee), ulnar collateral ligaments (wrist/hand), interspinous ligaments (vertebrae)
Biceps brachii (upper arm), rectus femoris (thigh), transverse abdominis (abdominals)
Patellar tendon (knee), calcaneal/Achilles tendon (foot/lower leg), biceps tendon (shoulder/elbow)
Brachial plexus (shoulder), ulnar nerve (elbow/hand), peroneal nerve (ankle/foot), cranial nerves I-XII(head)
Femur (leg), humerus (arm), ribs (torso), metatarsals I-VI (foot), metacarpals I-VI (hand)
Menisci (knee), intervertebral discs (spine), acetabulum (hip)


RICE method

The RICE method is an effective procedure used in the initial treatment of a soft tissue injury.

It is suggested that the patient take a break from the activity that caused the injury in order to give the injury time to heal.
The injury should be iced on and off in 20 minute intervals, avoiding direct contact of the ice with the skin.
Bandaging the injury will compress it, and prevent any further bleeding or swelling from occurring.
Elevating the injury above the heart while resting will aid in the reduction of swelling.

No HARM protocol

This mnemonic indicates what not to do within the first 48–72 hours after the injury in order to speed up the recovery process.

Applying heat to the injured area can cause blood flow and swelling to increase.
Alcohol can inhibit the ability to feel if the injury is becoming more aggravated, as well as increasing blood flow and swelling.
Avoid any activities that could aggravate the injury and cause further damage.
Massaging an injured area can promote blood flow and swelling, and potentially cause more damage if done too early.[3]


If severe pain persists after the first 24hours it is recommended that an individual consult with a professional who can make a diagnosis and implement a treatment plan so the patient can return to everyday activities.[5] To make a full diagnosis, a professional may use nerve conduction studies to localize nerve dysfunction (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome), assess severity, and help with prognosis. Electrodiagnosis also helps differentiate between myopathy and neuropathy. Using the RICE method can somewhat be controversial as the science behind using ice is not necessarily very clear. On one hand, ice diminishes pain, metabolism, and muscle spasms.  It also minimizes the inflammatory process and edema, which helps one recover from a soft-tissue injury.[6] However, creatine kinase-MB isoform and myoglobin levels circulating in the blood increased after exercising. Ice impedes the recovery process by keeping the Creatine kinase-MB isoform and myoglobin levels increased 2–3 days post exercise.[7] It is therefore important to weigh the pros and cons before applying any treatment, including the use of ice.

Ultimately, the best method of imaging soft tissue is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), though it is cost-prohibitive and carries a high false positive rate.


  1. ^ Lovering, 2008
  2. ^ a b "Soft Tissue Injuries (Sprains and Strains)". Victoria State Government.
  3. ^ a b "Sprains, Strains, and Other Soft Tissue Injuries". American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
  4. ^ a b "Soft Tissue Injuries". Sports Medicine Australia.
  5. ^ Flegel, 2004
  6. ^ Park, Young Hwan; Song, Jong Hyub; Kim, Tae Jin; Kang, Seong Hyun; Chang, An Seong; Kim, Hak Jun (October 2019). "Comparison of the use of evaporative coolants and ice packs for the management of preoperative edema and pain in ankle fractures: a prospective randomized controlled trial". Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery. 139 (10): 1399–1405. doi:10.1007/s00402-019-03222-7. ISSN 1434-3916. PMID 31203381. S2CID 189863579.
  7. ^ Tseng, Ching-Yu; Lee, Jo-Ping; Tsai, Yung-Shen; Lee, Shin-Da; Kao, Chung-Lan; Liu, Te-Chih; Lai, Cheng-Hsiu; Harris, M. Brennan; Kuo, Chia-Hua (May 2013). "Topical cooling (icing) delays recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage". Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27 (5): 1354–1361. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e318267a22c. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 22820210. S2CID 25628446.