Guide to Soft Tissue Injuries

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With former Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, recently speaking out against the personal injury industry and claiming that a "compensation culture" exists in the UK, Nicola Hardy, a Senior Associate Solicitor at Simpson Millar explains, soft tissue injuries are an area that has come under particular scrutiny from officials.

What is a Soft Tissue injury?

Soft tissue injury is a term used to describe damage to the muscle, ligaments, or tendons anywhere on the body. Soft tissue provides support, stability, and protection to the bones in our body – as such, injuries of this nature can have a lasting effect and can often affect the ability to perform daily tasks.

Soft Tissue Damage can include:

  • Bruises, sprains, and strains

  • Cartilage damage

  • The complete rupture of a muscle or tendon

Soft tissue damage usually causes immediate severe pain and sometimes swelling, however swelling may not always occur and in the days following a soft tissue injury, but bruising may become evident.

In the immediate aftermath of a soft tissue injury there may be instability, difficulty weight bearing on the affected area, stiffness, and the locking up of movement.

Following any sort of trauma, it is advisable to seek immediate medical assistance following a soft tissue injury.

Are Soft Tissue Injuries only Suffered in Car Accidents?

No. A common misconception is that the term “soft tissue injuries” can only occur as a result of a car accident, and only covers injuries like whiplash.

Many of the public figures that have spoken out against soft tissue injury compensation use the term whiplash interchangeably with soft tissue damage

Nicola explains why this is particularly dangerous:

"The danger with confusing all soft tissue injuries with whiplash injury is that any legislation or regulations against the latter could unfairly affect claims for the former.

"When we talk about soft tissue injuries in relation to car accidents there seems to be a common misunderstanding that soft tissue damage can only happen on the road – again this is a dangerous misconception that needs to be tackled."

Soft tissue injuries can be sustained anywhere, as a result of a number of incidents, namely slips, trips, and falls. Tissue damage is probably a more common injury than bone injuries like breaks or fractures.

Understanding that soft tissue damage is not limited to road traffic accidents and is not completely covered by the term whiplash is crucial when challenging common misconceptions.

Simply put, soft tissue damage can occur when muscles, tendons, or ligaments are overused, or if they suffer a sudden trauma. Most soft tissue injuries occur from sudden unexpected or uncontrolled movement – which is why so many road traffic accidents can result in a soft tissue, or whiplash claim. It is also important to note that soft tissue injuries can also occur as a result of over or repetitive use of a particular muscle group.

How Long Can Soft Tissue Injuries take to Heal?

The amount of time a soft tissue injury can take to heal depends on a number of factors, namely:

  • The severity of the injury
  • The location of the damage
  • The age and general health of the individual that has been injured
  • How often the injured area is used during the healing process

For low-level soft tissue injuries healing could take up to 2 weeks, however some soft tissue damage can take longer to heal than some bone fracture injuries.

For example, a simple fracture of a limb can heal without any complication within 3-6 months, however a soft tissue injury to the same body part can often take longer to heal. This is because treating a soft tissue injury is more difficult than certain bone injuries, as Nicola explains:

"Recovery from soft tissue injuries is generally, in my experience, more complicated. For example, if you fracture your ankle, you are put in a cast. This cast prevents you from using the ankle and allows the bone time to heal.

"However, if you hurt your back they can’t put you in a cast, you can’t be immobilised so that you aren’t using the injured muscles to give them a chance to heal. This means that every time you get up, walk around, or use your muscle to sit upright the injured area is being used.

"Unfortunately soft tissue injuries cannot always be seen like a bone injury – which appears on an x-ray – meaning that individuals that suffer soft tissue damage can be dismissed and told that the injury will settle over time, resulting in a delay to access to treatment."

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Aren't Soft Tissue Damage Claims Considered Fraudulent?

Due to the inability to see physical evidence of a soft tissue injury, as clearly as you can see a broken bone, they are considered harder to prove, however this does not mean that compensation claims are fraudulent.

Soft tissue damage exists and can have serious consequences on an individual's life, people with soft tissue injuries can struggle to perform simple tasks and can find themselves missing days at work to recover from their injury.

Gaining access to the right medical specialists – who understand the nature of soft tissue injuries – will go a long way to helping prove the loss caused by an injury; this is also important in ensuring that people have access to the rehabilitation they need to aid their recovery.

Responding to the opinion of public figures that dismiss soft tissue damage as part of a so-called "compensation culture", Nicola says, "Compensation claims should be seen as recuperating from a loss, the perception that individuals somehow profit from a soft tissue injury is as dangerous as the opinion that soft tissue injuries only occur in road traffic accidents.

"Soft tissue injuries are real injuries; they can be so debilitating that they often attract higher awards for damages than other types of injuries."

How Much Compensation Can I Claim for a Soft Tissue Injury?

Most personal injury claims are split into General Damages and Special Damages.

  • General Damages are designed to compensate for the pain, suffering, and loss of amenity caused by an accident
  • Special Damages cover the direct loss of finances because of an accident, such as loss of earnings and the cost of any medical attention required for an injury.

The amount of damages (compensation) awarded in any personal injury claim depends entirely on the nature of the injury.

Establishing causation, the severity, and the duration of an injury are the vital pieces of information in placing a value on any compensation claim. Once this has been identified, the Judicial College's guidelines on the assessment of General Damages outline the difference brackets of compensation claims.

Even the Judicial College's guidelines themselves outline the often precarious nature of a soft tissue injury, as Nicola explains, "If we look at a common back injury as the starting point of an example claim, the lowest bracket highlight in the Judicial College's guidelines covers minor back injury – this would cover a short term tissue injury.

"Depending on the length of injury and recovery time the award for a back injury can be as much as £10,450 - however this is the top end of the bracket and covers injuries that could take up to 5 years to heal.

"If we focus on Judicial College's guidance on foot injuries we can see the serious nature of soft tissue damage, as a soft tissue injury to the foot can attract an award similar to that of a bone fracture, providing the recovery time is similar.

"This highlights that you are not necessarily compensated for the ‘nature’ of your injury – for example a fracture or a soft tissue injury – you are instead compensated for how long your injury takes to heal, as well as how severe the effects of the injury were and may continue to be.”

Get Legal Advice from a Personal Injury Solicitor

If you have been involved in an accident that you suspect caused a soft tissue injury, it is important that you do not feel put off of making a completely justified claim because of the perception of some leading public figures.

At Simpson Millar, our Personal Injury Solicitors have extensive experience of standing up for members of the public, ensuring that individuals receive a fair compensation amount after they have been involved in an accident that was not their fault.

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