Understanding Latency Periods: A Guide to Onset of Injury in Muscles, Tendons, and Bones

Pain is a complex and subjective experience, often arising from various sources within our musculoskeletal system. Understanding the latency periods for the onset of pain and injury in muscles, tendons, and bones can provide valuable insights into how our bodies respond to different stimuli. The Latency period describes the time that passes from being exposed to something that can cause disease and developing symptoms. In this instance, a stimulus that causes injury to muscles, tendons, and bones.

Muscle Pain/Injuries:

Muscles play a crucial role in our everyday movements, and it’s common to experience muscle pain due to overexertion or new physical activities. However, the latency period for muscle injury can be as long as 1 to 2 weeks after the initial stressor. This delay is attributed to the time it takes for microscopic damage to accumulate and trigger pain receptors or even muscle failure (i.e. Hamstring tear due to repeated high-speed running). This means when you experience a tear in a muscle, the acute incident may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The loads a muscle is subjected to over the previous 2 weeks will be important in the diagnostic process and in preventing future injury.

Tendon Pain/Injuries:

Tendons connect muscles to bones and are susceptible to stress and strain, especially during repetitive activities or sudden increases in intensity. Tendon pain, often referred to as tendinopathy, has a slightly longer latency period compared to muscles. It typically arises 2 to 3 weeks after the initial overuse or trauma. Due to the relatively low level of blood supply and complex neural structure, the damage to tendons may take longer to present and heal. For this reason, looking at load over the 2-3 weeks before the onset of pain will be important to solving the puzzle of pain in tendon-related pain.

Bone Pain/Injuries:

Bones provide structural support to our bodies, and pain associated with bone injuries or stress fractures may take longer to manifest. The latency period for bone pain ranges from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the severity of the injury. Stress fractures, often seen in athletes or individuals with repetitive impacts on bones, can cause gradual pain over time. This needs to be considered when training for long-distance running events and other sports where there are long and repetitive impacts on bony structures. Load is not the only consideration for bone stress injuries where nutrition plays a vital role in prevention.

As always, these timeframes may vary from person to person with the load they are exposed to. While there is no recipe for preventing injury, understanding the latency periods for the onset of pain in muscles, tendons, and bones may allow a framework to take proactive measures in managing and preventing injuries. If you have started to develop uncharacteristic pain please get in touch for an assessment today.


Lachie Stewart – BeFit Training Physio Double Bay

Lachie Stewart – BeFit Training Physio Double Bay

Lachie Stewart is a physiotherapist based in Double Bay in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. Lachie has successfully treated musculoskeletal problems on the basis of a thorough assessment and diagnosis coupled with evidence-based rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs and goals of each individual. Lachie specialises in Sports injuries, headaches and ACL rehabilitation. To book a consultation, click the link below.

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