Injury Rehabilitation: The Three Phases Explained
Recovering from an injury is a complex process. Although our bodies can be injured in many ways, soft tissue injuries are quite common, and most people will experience this in their lives. This type of injury usually involves a sprain, strain, impact or overuse resulting in pain, swelling, bruising and loss of function to the area of the body. Common soft tissue injuries include sprained ankles, ACL / meniscus tear in the knee, tendonitis and bruising.
Recovering from any injury takes time. The duration of the healing process depends on the injury. Some injuries are more severe than others and some parts of the body are faster to heal than others. Of course, everyone is different too, so exactly how long it will take you to feel 100% again depends on a range of factors.
Whatever the injury, the rehabilitation process includes three phases of recovery.
Phase 1: Protection Phase
The first phase of recovery can last from two to four days, depending on the severity of the injury. This is the rest and protect phase of recovery. This stage includes swelling and possible bleeding around the affected area. Your body’s aim here is to protect your injury from further damage by limiting movement and recruiting supporting tissues to ease further pressure.
Your initial treatment will depend on your injury. Traditionally, soft tissue injuries and even breaks would be treated with the RICER protocol: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and Referral. The METH Method is now preferred and includes Movement, Elevation, Traction and Heat. For soft tissue injuries, the No HARM protocol can also be applied: no heat, no alcohol, no running or activity, and no massage. This will ensure decreased bleeding and swelling in the injured area.
Other treatments at this stage may include an ultrasound or an MRI scan of the injury site.
Phase 2: Repair Phase
The next phase of recovery is the repair phase. This happens after the swelling or bleeding has subsided and typically lasts up to six weeks post-injury. In this phase, your body is laying down new soft tissue. This reduces the need for you to protect your injury so much as the new scar tissue matures and strengthens.
At this stage, treatment is still needed for inflammation and swelling. The METH Method may still apply here, depending on the injury type. Treatment can begin and physiotherapy is recommended. Strengthening exercises can be introduced as tolerated, which can help to stabilise the injured area and slowly increase functionality.
Phase 3: Remodelling Phase
The next stage is the remodelling phase. This commonly lasts between six weeks and three months post-injury. In this phase, your body produces new additional tissue to help strengthen and support the healed scar tissue so you can keep up with the demands of your normal physical activity.
Treatment here will focus on your progression back to a pre-injury level of physical activity. Physiotherapy is also recommended during this phase. Strengthening activities will slowly increase in intensity. Exercises to improve range of motion, strength and to stabilise the injured joint can help prevent long-term impairment and prevent injuries from recurring.
Ongoing Repair and Remodelling
Whilst not commonly included, there is a final stage of the healing process which involves the strengthening of scar tissue to prevent reinjury. This usually begins three months after injury and can last months to years, depending on the severity of the injury.
In this phase, your body is focused on strengthening scar tissue and improving the quality of it to prevent reinjury. Physiotherapy may still be a treatment modality at this stage. Your physiotherapist will probably introduce sport or activity specific treatment and exercises to prepare your body for physical demands. Injury is the biggest risk factor for reinjury, so rest is still important during this phase.
How The Brisbane Spine Clinic can help
At The Brisbane Spine Clinic, we can help you through the stages of injury rehabilitation so you can get back to doing what you love to do. We will work with you to introduce a physiotherapy plan which encompasses specific exercises and other treatment modalities focused on your injury and recovery needs. Call today to book your appointment.