It doesn’t matter if you’re a hardcore athlete or a weekend warrior — sports injuries will happen. And when they do, you might have a difficult time deciding whether or not to see a doctor about your injury or pain. Although there’s no clear set of rules to tell you if your injury needs to be seen by a doctor, you can use these guidelines to help you decide when it’s time to get medical help.
Suppose that every time you play basketball with your friends you have pain in your ankle. The pain has gotten to be a regular part of your exercise routine. In fact, the only time you experience it is during and immediately after you play. It doesn’t impact your regular daily routine.
This kind of injury is often referred to as an overuse injury. As long as you don’t have swelling, bruising and discoloration, limited range of motion, or locking in your joint, you probably don’t need to see a doctor. Use common sense when caring for your overuse injury. Ice it, brace it while exercising, use an over-the-counter medication like Ibuprofen, and let it rest when you can. But if your overuse injury doesn’t heal when you’d expect it to, or if you experience any of the above symptoms, it might be time to see your doctor.
While you’re out running or playing football you injure yourself. It’s not a regular overuse injury. This time it feels different. You’re not able to walk normally; you have swelling, bleeding, discoloration, numbness, pain, or a bone misalignment. When you experience a traumatic injury like this, it’s a good idea to head to your nearest urgent care clinic or emergency room. Your doctor will need to do a physical exam, order x-rays, and maybe provide a cast, splint, or boot. Serious injuries may also require physical therapy for proper healing.
Unless you have an injury that results in a trip to the emergency room, you can choose what kind of doctor you see for your sports injury. If you’re on a team or in an organized sports program, you may have an athletic trainer or a team physician at your disposal. If you’re not on a team, you’ll need to decide who can help you best.
Most family doctors are a good place to start for basic injury care. If your community has a sports specialist or orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, that’s a better choice. Most physical therapy groups also help to treat sports-related injuries and may even be able to refer you to a good sports specialist in your community.
It can be difficult to decide if, when, and who to see for your sports injury. When you’re active, injuries are bound to happen. Know ahead of time what kind of injury needs medical attention, and who to see, so you’ll be prepared when that inevitable injury shows up.