Soft tissue injuries often get dismissed by insurance companies as mere bumps and bruises. But depending on the structures you injure in your accident, a soft tissue injury can cause significant and lifelong disabilities.
As a result, you might have to take time off from work to recover from your injury and rehabilitate. You might even need to change jobs. In the meantime, you could face high medical costs for surgery, physical therapy, and other treatments.
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What Are the Soft Tissues of the Musculoskeletal System?
When doctors refer to soft tissue, they often mean the soft tissues of the musculoskeletal system. But doctors use “soft tissue” to refer specifically to the structures that work with your bones to give your body structure, strength, and movement.
Thus, blood vessels, nerves, and lymph ducts are not considered soft tissues because they are not part of the musculoskeletal system. Likewise, bones are not considered soft tissues, even though they are part of the musculoskeletal system, because their mineral content makes them hard and rigid.
Some examples of soft tissues include:
Muscles have long fibers that contract and relax in response to nerve signals, giving your body movement and strength. By flexing and extending the muscles, your brain can raise your leg or turn your head.
Your skeleton provides the framework for your body, and tendons connect your muscles to your bones to power movement. The tendons also cooperate with the bones to give your muscles leverage to lift or carry objects.
Ligaments are tough, elastic bands that connect bones. Unlike muscles, your nerves do not control ligaments. Instead, they simply act as connective tissue to hold your bones together at the joints.
Ligaments are strong enough to guide the movement of your joints and hold your skeleton together as you run, lift, and jump. But they are also flexible enough to allow your joints to move before springing back.
Cartilage lines your joints and cushions them against shocks. If your cartilage didn’t absorb these impacts, your bones would chip away at each other as you move.
The collagen in the cartilage provides a smooth but tough surface. When you move, the cartilage-lined bones slide against each other rather than grinding. This reduces wear and tear in the joints.
How Does a Soft Tissue Injury Occur?
Soft tissue can suffer damage from accidents and diseases. Traumatic soft tissue injuries usually happen in four ways:
Soft tissues can wear out due to repetitive motions. When you stress soft tissue, it develops microscopic tears, which your body heals as you rest. But if you repeatedly stress your soft tissues, the tears can expand and spread, causing an injury.
Overuse injuries commonly happen in the workplace. If you have a job that requires you to stand, walk, lift, or carry objects all day, you can develop a soft tissue injury. When these injuries happen in the course and scope of your job duties, you can file a workers’ compensation claim to cover your medical costs and part of your lost income.
Hyperextension happens when your body gets stretched unnaturally. This can happen when playing sports. For example, a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a soft tissue injury that can happen when an athlete changes directions too quickly and tears a ligament in the knee.
Hyperextension can also happen in an accident. In a slip and fall accident, for example, you could hyperextend the soft tissues in your legs or back as you slip. You could also hyperextend soft tissue in your hands, wrists, elbows, or shoulders when you hit the ground.
Another common cause of hyperextension injuries comes from car accidents. When your vehicle collides with another vehicle, your body can twist and bend. The force of the crash can stretch and tear the soft tissues in your neck, chest, abdomen, or limbs.
A blunt impact happens when you hit your body on a blunt object, injuring the soft tissues without causing an open wound. A fall onto a flat surface, for example, can cause bruises without opening a wound in the soft tissue.
Penetrating trauma happens when an object pierces or tears the soft tissue, leaving an open wound. If you were to slide across a piece of broken glass during a motorcycle accident, for example, the glass could slice into your body and cause a penetrating injury to your soft tissues.
What Are Common Types of Soft Tissue Injuries?
Soft tissue injuries are usually classified by the structures that get damaged. Some examples of soft tissue injuries include:
Bruises are mild soft tissue injuries that happen when blood vessels rupture deep under the skin. The bleeding causes pain, swelling, and discoloration. Bruises usually heal within a few days.
Strains happen when you hyperextend a muscle or tendon.
Common symptoms of a strain include:
- Muscle pain
- Weakness and stiffness
- Muscle spasms
Even when a strain includes a torn muscle or tendon, doctors usually do not treat strains with surgery. Instead, they will prescribe rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication.
Sprains occur when an accident hyperextends a ligament.
This injury can cause:
- Joint pain
- Limited range of joint motion
Mild sprains usually heal with home care. But if a sprain involves a full-thickness tear of the ligament, your doctor may perform reconstructive surgery.
You may tear cartilage when you hyperextend a joint or suffer a blunt or penetrating impact on a joint. When the cartilage tears, you lose part of the joint lining.
This injury can cause:
- Joint pain
- Clicking or hitching inside the joint when you move it
You may require a long recovery time because torn cartilage can take several months to heal. You may also need surgery if the joint has loose cartilage inside it after the injury.
How Can You Get Compensation for a Soft Tissue Injury?
You can get compensation for a soft tissue injury that resulted from someone else’s negligence. If you prove negligence, you can get compensation for your economic losses, like medical costs, and non-economic losses, like pain and suffering.