How soon will a sprain/strain injury heal?

When someone gets hurt there are a few questions that will always come up; What's wrong? What needs to be done? How long will it take?

Let's start with the first question, what's wrong? We've been discussing sports injuries so for today we will discuss a sprain/strain injury. 

What needs to be done? After we have diagnosed the injury our next step is to assess the joint involved as well as the supporting structures. For example, if you sprained your ankle we will determine if an ankle adjustment is appropriate. We will also evaluate the low back and pelvis, and possibly the knee and hip as well. Our bodies natural compensate for the injury. We will also determine which therapies can help speed the healing process, possibly fit you for a support brace, as well as make recommendations for reduced activities, ice, and over-the-counter pain reducers. 

How long will it take? This question can be difficult to answer as it is based on the individual and the extent of the injury. Mild to moderate sprains take between 2-4 weeks to heal. More severe injuries can take between 6-8 weeks. We often think of spraining an ankle but these guidelines are also true of sprain/strain injuries of the back, neck, shoulders, etc. 

Our bodies are capable of incredible things, including healing injuries. (Side note: severe injuries may require more extensive treatments such as surgery or physical therapy) 

The healing process involves 3 phases: 

     1. Initial inflammatory phase - Last a few to several days. Blood clotting occurs, white blood cells trigger an immune response (redness, swelling, warmth), and nerve cells trigger a pain response.

     2. Reparative phase - Increased blood cells and collagen begin to form scar tissue. The time involved in this phase depends on the location and severity of the injury, some areas may take 3-6 weeks.

     3. Remodeling/strengthening phase - This phase takes the longest, anywhere from weeks to months to years. During this time the muscles around the injury should be challenged with strength training. Stressing the muscles and connective tissues stimulates growth and improved function. 

Until these 3 phases are complete the area involved will be more susceptible to re-injury. The repaired tissue will not be as strong as before, and repeated injuries to the areas leads to chronic instability of the joint.  

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