Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy is a collection of locally owned facilities that provide services to patients with a variety of conditions. We use hands-on, cutting edge techniques and personalized care plans to ensure your recovery goes as smoothly and as quickly as possible. To schedule a free assessment with one of our therapists, simply go online here today. For more information about our services and specialties, follow our blog!
Shaun Hilburn has been a staff member at our South Gilbert physical therapy location since he graduated with his Doctor of Physical Therapy from University of Texas at El Paso in 2014. He is committed to making Foothills a great place to work and to receive treatment, and he is here to explain the healing process for different injuries.
How long until I am healed? This is a common question asked by many patients who come into Foothills to be treated. The many conditions, injuries, and surgical procedures we see at our Gilbert physical therapy clinic have different rehabilitation time frames, but there are some general tissue healing guidelines that will help you answer your questions.
Tissues are categorized into muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone. Each tissue is made up of collagen, elastin, proteoglycans, and cells. The type and amount of each substance gives each tissue its specific properties such as strength, extensibility (ability to stretch), elasticity (ability to recoil once stretched), and overall structure. Think of tissues like clothing, in which the different blends of cotton, spandex, and polyester are based on the need to be soft, stretchy, or resistant to wrinkles. Tissues are also composed of different materials, and thus they do not all have the same healing time.
There are over 400 muscles in the body that allow an individual to maintain his/her posture, move, and absorb shock while moving. At times, these muscles become overstressed, causing an injury to the muscle known as a muscle strain. A muscle strain is categorized from grade one to three based on how severe the tissue damage is. Minor injuries may take only two weeks to heal, while severe injuries need three months or longer, with physical therapy, to recover. At times surgery may be required, which also lengthens the healing time.
Another tissue that is commonly injured is the tendon. Tendons connect muscles to bones and transmit forces generated by the muscles, allowing motion to occur. Tendon damage results from a direct cut, bruise, or from overloading (too much pressure on the tendon), causing it to fail. Tendon injuries are categorized as strains and have similar healing times as muscles. However, if surgical treatment is required, recovery times vary from four months to a year. Tendons enter the final stage of healing at seven weeks, but this process can take up to one year before it is completed. If too much stress is put on the tendon, it can make the problem worse over time, or even re-rupture. During rehab, it is important to attend physical therapy so the optimal levels of stress and motion are applied and the tissue can re-form properly.
Similar in structure to tendons, ligaments are another common tissue that is injured. Ligaments connect bones to bones, providing stability to joints. They direct our motions, and also prevent extreme movements that could cause injury. The ACL is one ligament that may be far too familiar to some, especially fantasy football fans that picked up Jamaal Charles in the first round. Those who were banking on Le’Veon Bell to put up big points might also be aware of the MCL.
Although both of these athletes’ injuries required surgery, less severe ones do not. Mild ligament sprains can take from two to four weeks to heal, and moderate sprains may take more than 10 weeks. The healing time increases from six months to a year if surgery is needed. Even NFL athlete Adrian Peterson took nine months to return to football, despite the help of the best doctors, physical therapists, and hours of devotion. While he did have an ACL tear in combination with an MCL injury, it takes everyone, even elite professional athletes, time to heal.
Last but not least, bones provide support for the body and serve as attachment points for ligaments and tendons. Breaking a bone is not an uncommon thing to hear about, and one name that comes to mind is college basketball’s Kevin Ware from Louisville. While not all fractures are as gruesome as his, they can occur in any of the body’s 200+ bones. A fracture in larger bones can take up to 12 weeks to heal, and it may not be completely recovered for up to a year. Interventions typically consist of surgery, immobilization in a cast, or time spent in a boot. Regardless of the course of treatment, time needs to be taken to reduce stress on the area and allow the bone to heal properly.
So how long does it take to heal? It depends on the tissues involved as well as the severity of the injury. Keep in mind that these timeframes are also based on acute conditions and negate other factors such as age, nutritional state, obesity, medical issues, as well as chronic conditions. Although the time frames above are not for specific injuries, hopefully it provides a starting point for understanding the timeline of tissue healing.