When To See a Specialist vs. When To Rest at Home—11 Sports Injuries

Everyone has a body. To take care of it, you’ll need to stay active. But no matter how careful you are, at some point or another, you may injure yourself. Should you see a doctor right away? Or is it better to take it easy and wait for the injury to heal on its own?

Whether you run, ski, or mountain bike, follow these guidelines so you know how to keep yourself in the game after an injury.

See a Sports Medicine Specialist After These Injuries

You May Have a Fracture

1. Are you a mountain biker? The most common injuries for mountain bikers are hurting the shoulder, upper arm, or wrist when biking downhill. If you’ve broken or fractured a bone, your bone will feel or look different than normal. You also might have swelling or a bump in the area. If you think there’s even a small chance your bone is broken or fractured, schedule an appointment with a sports medicine specialist right way.

You Have Weakness or Can't Put Weight On Your Injury

2. Most skiers have heard of the dreaded ACL injuries. But did you know that skiers can also injure their MCL ligaments? This usually happens if your knee bends toward your body when you fall down. You may be able to treat an MCL injury on your own with rest or physical therapy. But if you can’t walk or move normally, or if you can’t put weight on your knee without it hurting, you should see a doctor.

3. Baseball players often injure the UCL ligament in their elbow. This can happen after throwing a ball too much or incorrectly. Younger players can treat UCL injuries by simply taking a break from baseball for a while. If rest doesn't help, players of all ages should see a sports medicine specialist. You can also work with a throwing coach to lower your chances of injury.

You Have Redness, Swelling, Numbness, or Tingling

4. It’s a common scenario for backpackers and hikers: You twist your ankle and it swells, bruises, and hurts when you touch it. This usually happens to the outside of your ankle but can happen on the inside too. If you can't put weight on it or have pain in other parts of your foot besides your ankle, you should see a doctor right away.

5. Gardeners may suffer from bursitis in the knee. Fluid-filled sacs in your knee joints become inflamed, causing pain and swelling. Some gardeners can soothe pain by using a knee sleeve and avoiding kneeling. But if your knees are numb or tingling, or if your pain is getting worse, you should see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if your knee is red, hot to the touch, or swollen.

Your Pain Is Getting Worse

6. Many runners injure their IT band, a ligament that runs from your hip to your shin and stabilizes your knee. Your IT band may heal with rest, ice, and stretching. But if it’s been several weeks or months since your pain started and it's getting worse, you should see a sports medicine specialist.

Your Injury Interferes With Your Day-to-Day Life

7. Most swimmers swim everyday—or at least a couple times a week. Over time, swimmers can develop shoulder pain from using these muscles too much. If it’s too disruptive to stop your workout routine, a sports medicine specialist can help you figure out how to safely keep doing the activities you love. Older swimmers can especially benefit from seeing a doctor within the first few weeks of having pain or an injury.

Treat These Injuries By Resting

  1. Golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow—Usually, these are mild injuries that will heal on their own, especially if you rest. There’s generally no benefit to seeing a doctor within a week of when your pain starts.
  2. Neck or elbow pain from bike riding—Riding a bike strains the muscles in your neck and elbow. You probably don’t need to see a doctor for this type of pain at first. Instead, do training exercises to strengthen the muscles in your neck. You can also visit a bike shop and ask a fit specialist to adjust the position of your seat.
  3. Shoulder pain from rock climbing—Rock climbers can develop shoulder pain after reaching their arms above their head. To get better, take a break from rock climbing. Be sure to avoid movements that place you arms above your head. You don’t need to see a doctor unless your arms are weak, you can’t perform a full range of motion, or your pain gets worse over time.
  4. Runner’s knee—Runner’s knee is a classic “overuse” injury. It happens when you stress the muscles and joints inside your knee after running too much. Pain from runner’s knee will often go away if you take a break from running for a while. You usually don’t need to see a doctor unless your pain keeps coming back after taking continued breaks from running.

The good news is that you can treat many sports injuries on your own at home. Sports medicine specialists recommend the RICE rule after an injury:

  • Rest,
  • Ice,
  • Compression,
  • and Elevation.

Just remember that if your pain doesn’t go away within a couple weeks, or if you have swelling, redness, or weakness—make an appointment with a sports medicine specialist to make sure you stay in top form.

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