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The stages of healing and how a sports therapist can help

An injury occurs when the force applied to the tissue is greater than what the tissue can handle. We call this the mechanism of injury (MOI). Once an injury is sustained, our body goes through stages of healing to help return the injured area to its normal function.

A sports therapist’s goal in rehab is to create an environment for optimal and efficient healing through the use of manual therapy, modalities (ultrasound, acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical stimulation, etc) and exercise.

The stages of healing

The Stages of Healing

Stage 1: Inflammation

This stage begins immediately, from the moment after the MOI happens. This stage usually lasts for 72 hours and is defined by the following:

S - swelling H - heat A - altered function of the affected area R - redness P - pain

Our body needs inflammation to occur because this is how the injured area receives healing factors, nutrients and oxygen while damaged tissue is removed, allowing proper healing to take place.

How will a sports therapist help you during the inflammation phase?

  • Identify the injury to determine the best and most efficient treatment program

  • Control the swelling with appropriate manual therapy and exercises

  • Limit further damage by providing you with guidelines of what to avoid, alter or continue.

Stage 2: Fibroblastic Repair

This stage is all about building new tissue and begins around the 72-hour mark. While this stage can continue for up to 6 weeks, it is dependent on the individual.

At this time, the body is bringing in new healing factors and tissues to heal the injured area. For the first couple of weeks of this stage, the injury can still be fragile which is why it is important to do appropriate exercises to encourage strengthening of the newly forming tissues.

How will a sports therapist help you during the fibroblastic repair phase?

The goal is to encourage the new tissues that are healing the injury to lie along the line of stress. This means that sports therapists will prescribe exercises to encourage the new tissue to function as closely to the old tissue before injury. As best we can in this stage, we will provide sports specific exercises to keep the rehab process interesting and best suited for the individual.

Stage 3: Maturation & Remodeling

Depending on the tissue and the degree to which it was injured, this stage can take a long time (6 weeks+) and if not done properly, an injury may remain “dodgy” for years.

This stage is all about strengthening the newly formed tissue. It is a natural process for new tissue to breakdown and build up to gain strength. This happens through physical stress or exercise.

How will a Sports Therapist help you during the maturation and remodeling phase?

  • Assess technique and full body movement to ensure compensations are minimal to reduce the risk of a secondary injury

  • Push rehab exercises at an appropriate pace – not too fast, but also not too slow

  • Create an individualised home exercise program. For example a runner would require a different program than a power lifter

  • Use manual therapy and/ or modalities where appropriate.


In summary

The healing process cannot be sped up, but sports therapists can help to create an optimal environment for healing, thus not prolonging the process.

Having an individualised plan based on the person, their sport and the injury is important for the most efficient recovery.

Sports therapists do not want to stop you from being active because of an injury; we want to keep the remainder of your uninjured body active while helping to rehab the injury effectively and efficiently.

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