How long until I am healed? This is a common question asked by many patients who come into Foothills for treatment. The many conditions, injuries, and surgical procedures we see have different rehabilitation time frames, but there are some general tissue healing guidelines that will help you answer your questions.
The healing process for different injuries
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 give 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 a 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 prone to injury that may be far too familiar to some, especially in the sports of football, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics.
Although athletes’ ACL injuries may require 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.
Broken bone injury
Last but not least, bones provide support for the body and serve as attachment points for ligaments and tendons. Breaking a bone is not uncommon, 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.
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 full recovery goes as smoothly and as quickly as possible. To schedule a free assessment with one of our therapists, simply go online here today.