How to treat a soft tissue injury using these 8 steps

As a sports medicine rehabilitation clinic here in Richmond Hill we have been treating soft tissue injuries in athletes for more than 40 years. Over the years we have treated hundreds of athletes such as dancers, soccer players, gymnasts, hockey players and tennis players to mention a few. When our athletes come to us they first want to know what type of injury they have. Then they want to know how to treat it. And finally they want to know if they can return to play.

We will start this post by sharing a real patient story (with name changed) of a soccer player who suffered a soft tissue ankle injury and what she went through before she returned to play. Then, we will explain what a soft tissue injury is and how it is different from other injuries. Finally, we will list 8 steps you can use to treat your soft tissue injury at home.

How to treat a soft tissue injury using these 8 steps

What causes soft tissue injuries?

Kate is a 12 year old female soccer player. She was preparing for a tournament and working very hard – training 5 days a week. During one of her training sessions she was running and passed the ball to her teammate and rolled her ankle inwards. Immediately she felt pain and sat for the rest of the game with a tensor bandage and some ice. Many athletes suffer soft tissue injuries during intense training periods as well as during the game. The next day she came to see us and we diagnosed her with a grade 1 ankle sprain. We told her to take one week off training, come for treatment and we gave her an ankle brace.

About 3 days after her injury her pain and swelling went down and she decided to go back to training without her ankle brace. Well you guessed it! She fell while running and said her ankle felt like it “gave way” from her. Thankfully she did not fracture her ankle but she returned for treatment.

What are the effects of soft tissue injuries on the body?

When she came back for more treatment we explained that the reason her ankle gave out was because what happens with an ankle sprain is that ligaments are stretched and are not as strong as before the injury. Because she returned to play too early she had not reached the point where her muscles had enough strength and balance to protect her ligaments

Here are some videos of the exercises that were part of Kate’s treatment plan: ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE. One week later she was able to do all our exercises and returned to doing drills and eventually was able to return to play. In fact her team won the tournament the following week.

What is a soft tissue injury?

A soft tissue injury occurs when there is trauma to any skin, muscle, tendon or ligament in the body. It can be caused by trauma such as a fall, twisting or rolling an ankle. It can also be cause by overuse of a body part for example while training for a sport Soft tissue injuries do not include fractures or injuries to internal organs (brain, heart, kidney etc)

What are the different types of soft tissue injuries?

    • Bruises (from blunt force like a fall or a kick or blow)
    • Sprains (partial tear to a ligament)
    • Strains (injury to a muscle or tendon)
    • tendonitis(inflammation of a tendon)
    • Bursitis (inflammation of the bursa – between bones/muscles/tendons))

It is important to know that your injury is in fact soft tissue and not a fracture or something else serious. If you are not sure then have an assessment by your Physiotherapist or Chiropractor or Medical Doctor. For example if you have a fracture then you should not be putting any weight on that bone. So it’s important to first get the proper diagnosis

Follow these 8 steps at home to treat your soft tissue injury:

  1. PROTECT: Try to stop moving the area that is injured for 1-3 days. This will help to avoid making the injury worse. Use pain as your guide. As the pain goes down your movements should go up. Not moving the area for too long may make the muscle or tendon etc weak.
  2. ELEVATE: Raise the injured area to that it is higher than your heart. This will help fluids to leave the area and decrease swelling.
  3. ICE: you may add ice to help with the pain but for a maximum of 10 minutes at time and do not allow the ice to touch your skin.
  4. COMPRESSION: You may use braces or bandages to help limit swelling and help decrease pain and make it easier to move around. External mechanical pressure using taping or bandages helps limit intra-articular oedema and tissue Click HERE to learn how to wear an ankle brace(VIDEO)
  5. EDUCATION: Ask your Physiotherapist/Chiropractor if you should take some time off from play or training. Ask him/her how long you should expect before you could begin to return to play.
  6. LOAD: Soft tissue injuries will need a step by step protocol to increase the amount of load or weight you can put on the injured area. You want to put enough pressure to cause the tissue to first repair and then build back its strength. Your tendons, muscles and ligaments need to be challenged and your Physiotherapist will show you what exercises you need to do.
  7. OPTIMISM: It can be frustrating to miss time from training or from your sport. But the short time now to properly heal may lead to a long healthy career in your sport. Your mental health can be a barrier to your physical recovery. Your beliefs and emotions play an important role in your recovery.
  8. CARDIOVASCULAR EXERCISE: As long as it is pain free, cardiovascular activity early on in your recovery will increase blood flow to the injured structures, mobilise the joints of the area and may reduce the need for pain medications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the symptoms of a soft tissue injury?
    • 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.
  2. How long will it take me to recover from a soft tissue injury?
    The recovery time from a mild (grade 1) soft tissue injury will take 1 to 2 weeks. A moderate injury (grade 2) will take 3 to 4 weeks to recover. And a more severe injury (grade 3) may require significant treatment and take longer to recover. Your age, health and job are also important factors that affect your recovery.
  3. When should I see my Physiotherapist/Chiropractor for a soft tissue injury?
    If you have attempted immediate self care and the pain is not decreasing. If you cannot put weight on your body part. If the area is warm and increasing in swelling. These are reasons that you should see your Physiotherapist or Chiropractor who will assess you, offer treatment to speed up your healing and tell you what to avoid in order to avoid making your injury worse.

We hope that you have found this information useful so you can take action to help heal your soft tissue injury. Remember you must work together with your Physiotherapist who will know when it is safe for you to return to playing your sport.


Make an appointment with your friendly neighbourhood Physiotherapist and/or Chiropractor in Richmond Hill at 16th Avenue Chiropractic and Physiotherapy.

Call us at 905-709-7147 or email us at info@chirophysio16th.com

  • We can help you with pain by using ultrasound/laser/electricity
  • We can help by mobilising your joints using manual therapy
  • We can help by giving you customised arch support also known as orthotics
  • We can help you strengthen and stretch your muscles
  • We can help you get back to doing the things you love to do!