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Soft tissue injuries

Discover the common causes and symptoms of soft tissue injuries as well as the available treatment options.

Soft tissues include tendons, ligaments, muscles, fat and blood vessels. If these are damaged in any way, for instance through sporting injury or wear and tear, pain, stiffness, swelling and bruising may occur.

While many soft tissue injuries can be treated at home and will improve naturally over time with rest, others will benefit from treatments like physiotherapy or pain relief medication. More significant soft tissue injuries may require surgery to treat.

On this page, we will look at common causes of soft tissue injuries, as well as symptoms, types, diagnosis, treatments and recovery.

If you are concerned about any type of soft tissue injury, whether recent or one that occurred a while ago but has not improved over time, it is sensible to see somebody for a proper assessment. Your local Circle Health Group hospital would be delighted to arrange a private consultation with a consultant on a day and at a time that is convenient to you.

Soft tissues surround your organs, and connect and support other tissues in your body.

While the bones provide structure to the body, soft tissues help give integrity to the structure. This is similar to a tent, where the main support often comes through poles, but added integrity is provided by ropes.

Soft tissues are found throughout the body, and include:

  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Muscles
  • Fat
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerves

Sometimes these soft areas of the body can become injured after a trauma, such as sprain or strain, or they may become overloaded.

The symptoms you get from soft tissue damage will depend on several factors, including the type and location of the injury, its severity, your age and your general health.

Mr Ben Gooding, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at The Park Hospital, says that common symptoms of a soft tissue injury include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Stiffness
  • Reduced range of motion in the affected joint
  • Unusual sensation in the joint, like a popping or snapping
  • Instability in the affected joint

Any of the above symptoms may indicate a soft tissue injury.

Soft tissue injuries are an extremely common problem.

Sprains and soft tissue injuries account for 20-25% of A&E attendances. In one study, 70% of sports-related injuries seen in A&E were soft tissue injuries.

In Mr Gooding's experience, the majority of people who visit their local Circle Health Group hospital for help with a soft tissue injury have damaged a tendon, ligament or muscle.

Typically, a soft tissue injury will be the result of acute trauma (like a hard blow to the body) or overuse of the affected area. Those resulting from acute trauma will always have symptoms such as pain or swelling straight away, whereas those caused by overuse may develop more slowly over time.

Many of the people who visit us have injured themselves while playing sports or exercising. Rugby, football and similar sports all involve making sudden and quick twists and turns, which generate a lot of force through the joints. Ligament and tendon damage (including tears) can occur as a result.

Similarly, contact sports involve hard impacts that can lead to bruising, while running can easily lead to a twisted ankle or foot injury.

Sports that involve a lot of repetitive movements can increase the risk of developing an overuse-related injury in the soft tissues. Tennis elbow and golfer's elbow are two examples of this kind of injury.

Listed below are some of the common types of soft injury we see and treat in our hospitals. The list is intended to give an overview and is not exhaustive. If you have an injury that you don't see listed below, give us a call and we'll find you a specialist for your specific condition.

The earlier you start your treatment, the more effective it will be. As such, an early diagnosis is essential if you want to be treated and on the road to recovery quickly. This is particularly important for sportspeople who have injured themselves but are keen to get back to activity again as soon as possible.

A significant benefit of choosing private care for a soft tissue injury is the improved speed of access to assessment, diagnosis, treatment and guided recovery.

Clinical examination

When you first meet your consultant at your local Circle Health Group hospital, they will discuss your symptoms with you, asking in particular about when they first appeared.

They will normally carry out a clinical examination of the affected area, looking for signs of bruising, swelling, tenderness, instability, muscle imbalance and reduced range of motion.

This may be all that is needed to confirm a diagnosis, but in some cases, diagnostic imaging may be needed to look at the soft tissues in more detail.

Diagnostic imaging

Circle Health Group hospitals have access to a range of advanced diagnostic imaging, including X-rays, CT, MRI and ultrasound.

In many healthcare settings, access to diagnostic imaging can be quite slow due to demand and limited capacity. At Circle Health Group, we can provide you with rapid access to imaging when required. Onsite radiologists report on any scans quickly, so the results are back with your consultant as soon as possible.

Mr Gooding says: "Imaging significant soft tissue injuries early with, for example, an MRI scan, allows a tailored treatment approach to get people back functioning or back to sports in the quickest possible way."

Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, your consultant will tailor a treatment plan to your specific needs.

Treatment for a soft tissue injury is often non-surgical, but some injuries may need surgery to fully resolve the problem.

Non-surgical treatments for soft tissue injuries

Physiotherapy is the main treatment for most soft tissue injuries, either on its own or in addition to the other treatments. Your local Circle Health Group physiotherapists will be very happy to guide you through a tailored treatment and rehabilitation programme.

Splinting or bracing can help support and stabilise a specific part of your body as it heals.

Joint injections and PRP injections may be of benefit in some cases, and these can help to relieve pain and promote healing.

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) can be helpful in some cases, particular for tendon injuries.

Surgical treatments for soft tissue injuries

Usually, treatment for a soft tissue injury will start with non-surgical methods. If these are not able to resolve the problem, or your symptoms get worse, surgery may be an option.

Most types of surgery for soft tissue injuries can be carried out using keyhole (arthroscopic) surgery. As keyhole surgery only uses very small cuts in the skin, benefits compared to traditional open surgery include:

  • Less bleeding
  • Reduced visibility of scarring
  • Quicker recovery

Common types of keyhole surgery carried out at Circle Health Group hospitals for soft tissue injuries include (but are not limited to):

The time it takes to recover from a soft tissue injury and the degree of the recovery will vary depending on your age and health, the type of injury, the severity of your injury and the treatment required.

Physiotherapy plays a significant role in recovery for many types of soft tissue injury, and it is always important to follow an exercise or rehabilitation programme you are given.

Your local Circle Health Group physiotherapy team will oversee your recovery and have access to specialist equipment to help you as you recover. Their focus will be on helping you regain strength, movement and function in the affected area as safely as possible.

Some soft tissue injuries may have a recovery time of a few weeks while others may take a year or longer to see the full benefits. Your consultant will give you a clear idea of the expected recovery time for your soft tissue injury.

While your recovery will typically be overseen by the physiotherapy team, your consultant will usually meet with you around six weeks after any treatment begins to monitor your progress and make any adjustments to your treatment that may be needed.

If you have any questions or concerns at any stage of your recovery, it's easy to get in touch with your consultant and book a follow-up appointment.

The cost of your soft tissue injury treatment will depend on various factors, including what your injury is and what treatments you need, as well as which hospital and consultant you choose.

We provide treatment for people with private health insurance and those who choose to self-pay. If you've never used private healthcare before, this page explores the many benefits of going private.

For peace of mind, you will always receive written confirmation of the fee for your treatment following your initial consultation and after any additional investigations (like X-ray, ultrasound or MRI) have been carried out.

Speed plays an important role in the treatment of soft tissue injuries. This covers every aspect of your treatment pathway:

  • Access to assessment
  • Receipt of an accurate diagnosis
  • Rapid treatment commencement
  • Access to a physio-guided tailored recovery programme

A delay in getting an initial assessment will have a knock-on effect on the time it takes you to get a diagnosis and for any treatment to be planned and started. All the while, you will still be struggling with pain and/or stiffness, and there is the risk of causing further damage if there is a more serious underlying problem.

As the UK's largest network of private hospitals, we can provide you with quick and easy access to an experienced consultant wherever you live so that you can get the help you need without delay.

Your local Circle Health Group hospital offers you many benefits if you're struggling with or concerned about a soft tissue injury. These include:

Rapid access to consultants and treatments

When you choose Circle Health Group for your private healthcare treatment, you benefit from fast access to an experienced consultant. It's easy to book a private consultation and you won't end up stuck on a waiting list for weeks or months.

Comprehensive assessment

Each of our hospitals offers fast access to leading consultants, specialist diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, a wider healthcare team and a tailored treatment plan.

During your initial private consultation, your consultant will carry out a clinical examination of the affected area. If further investigations like blood tests or imaging are needed, these are quickly and easily arranged for you.

Flexible appointment times

Every Circle Health Group hospital offers private consultations throughout the week. A number of them also offer evening and weekend clinics, perfect for people with busy diaries who would find an appointment during working hours a challenge.

You can choose which hospital is best for you, on the day and time that's most convenient. You also have a choice over the consultant you see.

It's very easy to book a private consultation at your local Circle Health Group hospital. You can do this online or by phoning our helpful team on 0141 300 5009.

Consultant-directed care

You will only ever see a consultant at a private consultation and will never be treated by a more junior doctor. With a consultant carrying out your assessment, diagnosis and treatment, you will not experience the delays you may experience in other healthcare settings where you are often first seen by a junior or trainee doctor.

With consultant-directed care from the very beginning, treatment can be started at an earlier date and any adjustments to the treatment plan can be made quickly and easily.

Imaging without delay

While many soft tissue injuries can be diagnosed from the clinical history and physical examination of the affected area, diagnostic imaging may sometimes be needed to help confirm a diagnosis or to rule out other causes.

Every Circle Health Group hospital offers fast access to imaging like X-ray, MRI and ultrasound scans. Our on-site radiologists provide fast reporting so that results are back with your consultant as soon as possible.

By getting faster access to imaging, your diagnosis, treatment and recovery can all happen much faster. As Mr Gooding says, "Many soft tissue injuries won't need active treatment, other than some gentle exercises and supportive approaches like painkillers, and so on. But the key is to get a diagnosis as early as possible, so that if there is more significant damage that needs treating it is picked up quickly.

"One of the most effective ways to do this is with an MRI scan, which gives detailed pictures of the soft tissues around the body like the ligaments, tendons and muscles."

The waiting time in some places for an MRI scan is measured in months. At Circle Health Group, it is usually a matter of days, and sometimes hours.

If a soft tissue injury is causing you pain, stiffness, swelling or any other problem, you can see one of our expert consultants for specialist assessment and treatment advice.

If treatment is needed for your soft tissue injury, whether physiotherapy or pain relief medication, anti-inflammatories or surgery, we’re here to help you.

We look forward to welcoming you to your local Circle Health Group hospital.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in August 2022. Next review due August 2025.

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