Registered Massage Therapist
Member of the Massage Therapists' Association of Nova Scotia since 2000

The Halifax Professional Centre
5991 Spring Garden Road • Suite 577
Halifax, Nova Scotia • B3H 1Y6
902 • 580 • 2708

Acute, Subacute or Chronic?

An injury is defined as either acute, subacute or chronic, depending on how much time has gone by since the injury. However, a more accurate definition takes into consideration the symptoms you see and feel, rather than just a textbook definition of when a specific stage begins and ends according to time.

For example, the acute stage of an injury is defined as the first 72 hours after an injury. But if you sprain your ankle and continue to kick a soccer ball around, your acute stage could last longer because you're irritating the tissue and prolonging the inflammation and other symptoms.

If you have an old (chronic) injury and it flares up, it is considered acute again.

The acute phase of an injury is usualy defined as the first 3 days after an injury.  An acute injury may include some or all of the following:
  • Most significantly: INFLAMMATION = Redness and swelling
  • (However - note that with injury an to very deep or poorly vascularized areas swelling and may not be noticeable.)
  • Sudden, severe pain
  • The inability to bear weight (for example: not being able to step on your foot without pain.)
  • Decreased mobility (for example: you suddenly can't lift your arm up as far as you used to.)
  • Muscle spasm
  • Extreme weakness
  • Visible dislocation or break of a bone
  • Red, black, blue bruising
Usually defined as 3 days to 3 weeks after an injury. May include some of all of the following:
  • Fragile scar tissue forming (Your body is regenerating and developing new tissue)
  • Yellow, green and brown bruising
  • Range of motion increases
  • Inflammation decreases
Usually defined as any time after three weeks. May include some or all of the following:
  • Pain with movement is dull or achy, not sharp.
  • Pain at the very end of a range of movement.
  • Dull ache at rest
  • Bruising is gone
  • Signs of inflammation are gone
  • Scar tissue is maturing

What type of hydrotherapy you should use during each stage of healing for an injury?

ACUTE (the first 3 days after an injury) : use COLD

SUBACUTE (3 days to 3 weeks after an injury) : use CONTRAST

CHRONIC (any time after 3 weeks) : use HEAT

For more information, read the post (see the column on the left)"Hydrotherapy".