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Healing Will Take Time & Physical Therapy Can Assist With Recovery

Like it or not, injuries are a part of life. And if you’re an athlete or active individual, this fact is more likely to ring true, as you’re bound to experience an injury from time to time—or perhaps even more often.

After an injury occurs, the question that’s top of mind for most athletes is almost always the same: “how long before I can return?” The response to this question from trainers, physical therapists, and other professionals who work with athletes is often something along the lines of “it’s complicated,” which is accurate due to the various factors and nuances involved in each individual injury. However, there are some general concepts and timelines that can help to give you a better idea of what to expect the next time you get injured.Average healing times for injured structures

Perhaps the most important concept to understand in this discussion is that although proper rehabilitation can significantly reduce pain levels and help patients regain lost physical function, there are limits to how much the recovery process can be sped up. Injuries cause damage and irritation of one or more structures—sometimes extensively—and it can take a fair amount of time for these structures to repair and remodel afterwards. The amount of blood flow to different tissues and structures also varies widely, which directly affects the amount of time needed for healing. Finally, the severity of an injury will—unsurprisingly—impact healing time, with more severe injuries typically taking longer to heal than mild injuries.

For more context, below is a list of the average time for tissue healing of several commonly injured structures based on a comprehensive literature review:

  • Muscle strain
    • Grade 1: 2–8 weeks
    • Grade 2: 2–4 months
    • Grade 3: 9–12 months
  • Ligament injury
    • Grade 1: 2–8 weeks
    • Grade 2: 2–6 months
    • Grade 3: 9–12 months
    • Surgical repair (eg, ACL): 12+ months
  • Tendon injury
    • Acute: 2–6 weeks
    • Subacute: 2–4 months
    • Chronic: 3–9 months
    • Tear, surgical repair, or rupture: 4–12+ months
  • Other injuries
    • Bone fracture: 6–12+ weeks
    • Articular cartilage: 9–24 months
    • Meniscus/labrum: 3–12 months
  • Determine an accurate diagnosis and prognosis
  • Avoid or modify aggravating factors
  • Reduce symptoms, normalize joint motion, minimize swelling
  • Address factors that caused the injury or are making it an ongoing problem
  • Monitor progress and help with exacerbation and recurrences
  • Develop a long–term plan to reduce the risk for injury recurrence
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