Stages of Injury Healing

With today’s busy lifestyles, there is little downtime for rest and relaxation. So when an individual becomes injured they may try to force their body to continue to operate at its former level of strength. They stalwartly try to follow the old adages of “no pain, no gain” or “shake off the pain”. However, ignoring an injury only prolongs the overall healing time and can do permanent damage, leaving a person unable to ever regain their former level of flexibility and/or strength. It really is important to take the process of healing after an injury seriously and follow the advice of medical professionals. It may require a little downtime in order to do so, but following doctor’s orders can help patients avoid turning a temporary injury into a chronic, lifelong hindrance.

After Injury – The Acute Stage

The first stage after an injury is labeled the acute stage. This is when pain and swelling (edema) are generally at their highest levels due to the body’s attempt at healing by way of the inflammation process. In some cases, there may also be bleeding, both externally and internally (bruising). The general time frame for the acute stage to resolve is 2-4 days post-injury, however, some people with a severe injury may find their acute stage lasts up to 7 days. Within this first phase, the goal of the body is to prevent further tissue damage. The injured patient who wisely listens to their body will also seek to prevent further damage by allowing the injured part to rest. If the pain and swelling are severe, it is always a good idea to seek medical attention. A physician will most likely recommend the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) treatment method, as well as prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce pain and swelling.

The Middle – The Sub-Acute Stage

At some point, the body will pass from the acute stage into the sub-acute stage. This is the phase where the body begins to repair damaged tissue. This stage generally lasts for about 3 weeks, although this phase could extend longer in the case of a severe injury. Some patients will start to feel better and think they can return to their former level of activity, however, it is important not to overstress the injured area as it goes through the repair process. Doing so may return an individual to the acute phase where they have to start the entire process all over again.

The sub-acute stage is when a doctor may order a series of physical therapy treatments. A physical therapist can help patients by applying treatments that provide pain relief, as well as guiding them through stretches designed to maintain range of motion, while gradually increasing flexibility levels over time. This is an important phase of healing. A professional physical therapist will know how much to “push” a patient (only to the point of pain) thus helping muscles to remember how to work properly, without overdoing it which would send the patient back to the first stage.

The Final Stage – Remodeling

Around 6 weeks after injury, the area is going through the remodeling phase. The damaged tissue has been replaced with new (scar) tissue. Generally, this new tissue is not as strong as the previous, so a person will likely feel some pain as they try to regain their former level of activity. During this phase, putting some stress on the new tissue is necessary in order to strengthen it, but it is important not to put too much stress on newly repaired tissue. Again, this is an essential time for professional treatment with a physical therapist. With their expertise, they can safely guide a patient to increase their strength and flexibility, while avoiding the point where they would re-injure themselves.


If you want to learn more about the stages of healing after an injury or have recently injured yourself and want to get back to your former active lifestyle, we can help! Please contact Cawley Rehab at 570-208-2787 or email us at:

Written by Dr. Jeff Frail