One of the most common questions we are asked by our patients is “How long will it take until it is better?” and the answer is that healing times vary greatly depending on the type of injury, the structures that have been damaged, the amount of time that has lapsed since injury began as well as your age, general health and other lifestyle factors.
Often we find that the longer you have had an injury the longer it takes for it to fully resolve, this is because there is usually something preventing healing for example – re-injury or muscle imbalances and poor posture meaning that the rest of your body has been trying to compensate for it in some way.
Osteopaths treat the whole body not just the injury site, so we will try to make sure that the injury won’t reoccur and that it won’t develop into other problems as a consequence.
With acute injuries the healing times for different tissues (e.g. muscle, bone, tendon, ligament etc) are explained in several steps, each phase happens over a different length of time.
1 – Hemostasis (Seconds to Hours)
This is the initial stage that happens immediately after injury. Blood vessels are damaged as the tissues are injured and fluids such as blood and plasma enter the wound site. Blood clots form to prevent further bleeding around the injury and signals go to the brain to stimulate inflammatory cells to be sent to the area.
2 – Inflammation (Hours to Days)
Inflammatory cells arrive at the injury site and begin to act on the damaged tissues and the clotted blood. This process begins to break down and remove any damaged tissue, clean the area and protect from further injury. This stage is what makes the injury look enlarged, red or swollen and can be painful to move joints.
3 – Repair (Days to Weeks)
Cells collect around the injury site and begin to build collagen, which is a type of protein. These proteins are the building blocks for new tissues to grow. During the repair stage the collagen is laid out in a random disorganised pattern, this means that it does not have much structural integrity and is weaker than when the tissue is fully healed and can still be damaged or re-injured easily.
4 – Remodeling (Weeks to Months to Years)
During the remodeling phase the collagen fibres begin to align and contract enabling the previously damaged tissue to become more stable and establish more strength. This can take over 12 months depending on the type of injury as your body continues to repair and strengthen even after the injury looks and feels better.