Hurt your shoulder while surfing at Folly Beach? Fall down running on the cobblestone in Downtown Charleston? Pain and injury can be very difficult to manage and is usually the first thing that people ask about during their evaluation here at Made 2 Move. How long will I be in pain? The short answer: we don’t have an exact time frame. We can give a general time frame based on research, but every injury and body is going to heal differently and at different rates.
One factor we are confident in as a major key to healing injury is time. While no patient wants to hear “time will heal,” this is the truth in most cases. The healing process is not linear and everyone will progress at different rates in their rehab, but generally, time is the ultimate healer for injuries. Read on for the long answer as to how much time it will take for your injury to heal.
How long do different injuries take to heal?
Most clinicians will tell you that 6-12 weeks is the time frame it takes for injury to heal. This is a general statement based on the 3 phases of healing (inflammatory, proliferation, and remodeling). Injury recovery is incredibly multifactorial; thus, recovery times can vary greatly from this 6-12 week estimate.
One of the biggest factors (aside from time) in healing is blood flow. This is why we encourage patients to keep moving if their injury allows it! In general, strains, sprains, and muscular injuries will take the least amount of time to heal, while bone, tendon and cartilage injuries tend to take longer. For example, a full ACL tear (ligament) will typically take longer to heal than a calf strain (muscle). This timeframe is largely related to the amount of blood flow these structures receive. Muscles receive lots of blood flow (the heart is as muscle), tendons and ligaments receive less blood than muscles do, and cartilage receives the least.
Many of the patients we see come in with chronic pain or overuse injuries in which the time frame can get even more complicated because of the complexity of associated pain.
What does the research say?
Recent research has looked into low back pain, as this affects a large majority of the population at some point in their lives. Researchers found that most acute back pain gets better in 6-8 weeks with no treatment. This is not an excuse to not go to physical therapy. Physical therapy gives you the confidence and clarity to move forward, stay active, and manage your life while you are hurt. Physical therapy is definitely necessary, as it gives you a diagnosis, treatment plan, and direction to go with your physical activity that will promote optimal healing.
The healing isn’t necessarily attributed to manual therapy done by your PT or back cracking done by your chiropractor. These modalities may have helped, but weren’t the solution to your pain; time, rest, and moderate activity outside of these sessions most likely was the key to your injury recovery.
Research by Artus and colleagues in 2010, studied back cracking as a treatment for low back pain. This study examined back cracking, NSAIDs (advil or ibuprofen), or double placebo (no treatment) and each one’s effect on the low back pain. What did they find? The average recovery time was 2 weeks and 99% of patients recovered by 12 weeks, regardless of the treatment they received. What was the only thing the groups had in common? Allowing time and patience to heal their injury.
Researchers noted in the conclusion of their research that “[low back pain] symptoms seem to improve in a similar pattern in clinical trials following a wide variety of active as well as inactive treatments. It is important to explore factors other than the treatment that might influence symptom improvement” (Artus et. al 2010).
What does this mean? It is evident that treatment modalities done by doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors can help in healing injuries. But the key word here is help. At the end of the day, it’s going to be time and your body’s resiliency that heals your injury. This is evident from the research displaying 99% of those with low back pain having recovered in 12 weeks, regardless of their treatment.
How can I use time as the “ultimate healer” for my injury?
“It’s going to take time.” This is a frustrating response for many athletes to hear post injury, when the only thing on their mind is getting back to their sport. When a doctor or PT tells them that they’re going to have to take time off from their sport, Crossfit, or marathon training, many patients brush the advice off and want to just “power through.” However, this can just stall the healing process and keep you out of your sport longer. Listen to your PT when he or she tells you to take time off. Movement is medicine, yes, but the type, amount, and intensity of movement and activity you’re doing may have to be tweaked during different stages of the healing process.
Here at Made 2 Move, we try to equip you with strategies to stay active and exercises to do while your body heals itself. We don’t fool ourselves into thinking that the dry needling, manual therapy, or 1 hour PT session was what made you better. We recognize these modalities play a role in healing, but we also understand that time plays perhaps the greatest role. We also aren’t going to have you doing 3 PT sessions a week for 6 months. If you’re in PT that long, something obviously isn’t working. Our goal is to get you out of PT and back to your normal activities as quickly as possible. Interested in PT for your injury? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org today to set up an initial evaluation.