When we think of injuries, we usually think of the pain when the injury occurs.
Whether it’s a sporting accident, or an everyday mishap, we tend to think in terms of the immediate effect. Yet recovering from an injury can have a severe impact on our lives as well. Recovery times can impact your lifestyle, your work, your leisure times and your future.
How long does it take to recover from an injury?
The answer varies wildly.
Some injuries can heal quickly, others can take many months.
Every injury is as unique as the individual who has the bad luck to be injured. The following information covers the normal rehabilitation times of some of the most common sporting injuries.
Feet and ankles
We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.
Injuries to the feet and ankles occur in numerous sports, especially those which involve running, jumping or kicking. Some injuries are gradual; they occur over a long period of time. Others occur instantly. Your feet bear the weight of your body, so they are pretty tough and resilient, but they are also very important, so you should always get foot pain checked out.
Heel pain is very common in runners and joggers. It’s often caused by swelling in the band of tissue that runs under the foot, but it can be caused by problems with the Achilles tendon. If the pain is muscular, it can usually be treated by stretching exercises and ice. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can also be useful. This kind of injury shouldn’t really take more than a few days to heal.
Injuries to the tendon take longer to recover from. In milder injuries, elevating your leg, using a compression bandage, applying ice and doing appropriate stretching exercises will help you to get better, but in extreme cases you may need a cast or even surgery. A severe Achilles tendon injury is going to take from six to ten weeks to heal.
Then there are fractures. You have a lot of bones to fracture in your foot. A broken toe is painful and needs rest, but often can be treated by a GP. A broken or fractured heel is also very painful. Smaller toes are often treated by being “buddy taped” to the next toe, and will heal without surgery. More serious fractures can and do occur, however, and need to be treated in hospital. All broken bones need time to heal - six weeks is usually the normal time for straightforward fractures.
Your ankles are also vulnerable to injury. Sprains and twists are common in most sports which involve running or jumping. Minor to moderate ankle sprains will heal on their own, given time and care. Ice, elevation, compression and support will all help, but the main thing is to rest the joint and not make the injury worse. Ankle sprains usually take weeks, not months, to heal, depending on the severity of the injury. Mild sprains can be gone in days; severe sprains might take four weeks or so.
Ankle fractures are also quite common. In some cases where the bone is still in place, a cast is used to immobilise the ankle. If more than one bone is broken, or the bone is out of place, then surgery may be needed. A broken ankle will take at least six weeks to heal. If ligaments are involved in the injury, then treatment is more complicated and recovery time is longer. A tendon or ligament injury can take far longer than a simple fracture to heal - anything up to two years can pass before the joint is fully pain free again.
Your knees are also susceptible to injury. Ligament injuries are more common than fractures, but they can take more time to heal as well. Minor injuries can be treated with ice, compression, elevation and rest, although using a brace is recommended for many injuries. A more severe ligament injury can require surgery to repair the ligaments, and this can mean a very long recovery time - up to a year or more.
Injuries to the ligaments and tendons in your knees can really have a negative impact on your life. The knee is the largest joint in your body and definitely takes the most punishment. If you do a lot of sport, either as a professional or as an enthusiastic amateur, it is really worth considering how best to support your knees so as to prevent this type of injury. If you have already experienced a knee injury, then a good knee support is vital to prevent re-occurrence. Modern knee braces are lightweight, tough and in some cases water resistant, so you can protect your knees and do the sport you love.
Back injuries can be very serious. Even if they’re not, they can be very painful. Muscular injuries to your back - sprains or strains - are often caused by lifting heavy weights or by twisting your body awkwardly. Warming up properly, and making sure that your back is properly supported can prevent this kind of injury. Damage to muscles and ligaments in the back are treated in the same way; ice, rest, muscle relaxants and painkillers, and sometimes exercise or massage. Back strains can be very painful - the good news is that if they are correctly managed, they don’t last for more than a few weeks.
Other forms of back injury can be rather more severe, which is why you should always consult a professional if you’re experiencing back pain. Spinal injuries can cause permanent damage, limiting your mobility and your activities, so they should always be treated with caution.
Wrist and Hand
Wrist and hand injuries are also very common in people who do a lot of sport. The most common injuries are sprains, caused by twisting, turning and impact, followed by fractures which are often caused by falling onto an outstretched hand. Again, minor sprains will heal quite quickly if they’re treated properly and promptly, allowing you normal use of your wrist after two to three weeks.
Fractures are more serious; a straightforward fracture needs to be set, immobilised and allowed to fully heal before you try to use your hand or wrist normally again, and more serious fractures will need surgery.
As with back injuries, head injuries can be incredibly dangerous - even fatal. With head injuries, it’s important to seek medical advice straight away. Bruises and cuts will heal quite quickly, but concussion can mask other damage and repeat concussion can lead to permanent problems. It’s very difficult to estimate the recovery time for any serious head injury. More and more sports advise people to wear helmets - for very good reasons.
Many of the most common sports injuries will heal within two months. Once they have done so, two things are important.
The first is to regain strength in damaged muscles gradually. Exercises to restore strength to unused muscles are important if you want to avoid further injury. In some situations, a support or a brace is the ideal solution to help damaged limbs get back to normal.
The second is to prevent a repeat injury. Repeated strains, sprains or fractures can lead to long term weakening and in the case of joints can contribute to the development of arthritis or other permanent chronic conditions. Starting properly, warming up, protective gear and supports such as knee braces, belts or wrist guards can all help to prevent repeated injuries.