Preview - Soft Tissue

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Study Notes

Soft Tissue Injuries

Theses are very common to athletes in all sports.

An example being that hamstring strain injuries are the most common seen in the AFL according to the 2014 AFL injury report.

– Tears, Sprains and Contusions

A tear generally occurs in soft tissue when there has been an excessive stretching of the tissue or it has severed due to an excessive external force. There are two types of tears in soft tissue:

1. Sprain

This refers to the stretching of the joint capsule and its connecting ligaments beyond its normal range of motion. We know this as torn ligament fibres. Ligaments are designed to be rigid and relatively in-elastic, connecting bone to bone meaning they provide stability to the joint. When an athlete injures this site, they are often assessed as either grade 1 (small or slight tear), grade 2 (this is a partial tear), or grade 3 (this is a complete rupture).

Injuring this area can cause damage to the stability of the joint. You will often experience pain, swelling and the inability to complete normal movements. It is important that you seek proper rehabilitation management to regain stability, strength and get rid of any scar tissue that has formed. It can be a slow process.

2. Strain

Refers to when the muscle fibres or tendons are torn to some degree or over stretched. This type of injury can be quite painful and will often see bruising around the injured site. An example of a strain is a torn hamstring whilst sprinting in the sport being played. Strains can be categorised as a grade 1, 2 or 3. This all depends on the severity of the injury and the number of fibres that are affected.


These occur generally as a direct force or blow to an area of soft tissue on the body. We know this to be called either a cork, bruise or haematoma. An example of this is in soccer when an opponent’s knee strikes into your quadriceps. This type of contact can often cause internal bleeding for a few days.

– Skin abrasions, Lacerations and Blisters

Skin abrasions occur when a force contacts the skin and causes superficial damage, no deeper than the epidermis layer of skin.

An example of this is when a Netballer falls over on the court. The hard surface (i.e. the force) in conjunction with the athlete’s momentum causes the skin to scrape and/or split. If the netballer has fallen on an outside court, foreign materials, such as dirt, may lodge itself into the abrasion. This will mean the treatment will require thorough cleaning and a non-stick dressing put on top of the abrasion.

An irregular tear in the skin which leaves an open wound is called a laceration. Extra care is required for this type of cut to prevent further infection. Any laceration that measures over 1 cm needs to be referred to a doctor particularly in the case of a mouth or head injury.

When fluid collects with the epidermal layer of the skin (surface) and consistent rubbing occurs, blisters will form. These often are the result of wearing in new shoes on the heels, extended use of equipment or an activity that requires high intensity and quick changes of direction. Management of blisters is rest. Also look to apply second skin dressings.

– Inflammatory Response

If the body is injured, the inflammatory response is initiated.

The inflammatory response’s purpose is to protect the body and fight against any damaging substances, rid the site of dying or dead tissue cells and aid in the tissue cells’ regeneration and repair of the injured site.

There are 3 phases of inflammatory response are outlined as follows:

Phase 1 – The inflammatory stage:

Elements of this stage include:

– Pain

– Swelling around the site of injury

– Lack of movement

– Cell and surrounding tissue damage

– Blood flow increases to the area

Phase 2 – The repair and regenerative stage:

– Starts after the initial 48 hours.

– This stage can last anywhere from 3 days to 6 weeks

– Characterised by: damaged tissue is broken down, new fibres are formed, scar tissue forms

Phase 3 – The remodelling/ repair stage:

– Lasts 6 weeks to many months

– Characterised by: scar tissue production is increased, strengthening of replacement tissue

– The inflammatory response will generally last up to five days.

Over time, treatment of these injuries will aim to restore strength and flexibility, regain function, return the athlete back to their sport as soon as possible and try to prevent any reoccurrence of the injury

To manage soft tissue injuries, you need to apply the RICER PRINCIPLE:

(Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate, Referral)

Rest: It is important to make the athlete as comfortable as possible. This may mean lying the down, which will decrease blood flow to the injured site.

Ice: Ice needs to be applied to the injured site. An example of this is a cold pack which works to reduce reduce swelling and pain and vasoconstriction of blood vessels.

Compression: Use a firm bandage over the injured site as well as above and below to constrict the swelling.

Elevation: The injured site needs to be raised above the level of the heart. This promotes the reduction of bleeding, swelling and pain as it uses gravity to restrict blood flow.

Referral: At this stage, it is important to refer the athlete to a qualified professional (doctor/physio) to diagnose the injury at its early stage, treat and provide rehabilitation.

Things to avoid: (HARM)

– Heat

– Alcohol

– Run

– Massage

−Immediate Treatment of Skin Injuries:

Avoid infection is important: to control infection – gloves, antibacterial wipes, sterile bandages

Control bleeding: pressure, elevation, rest (PER)

Clean the wound – sterile bandages