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September 29, 2016 - TCO

See a doctor, or wait and see?

Does this situation sound familiar? You were exercising and “tweaked” something, but rather than getting it checked out by a doctor you decided to just wait it out, hopeful the injury would magically disappear on its own. Nobody wants to lose valuable training time, or take time off during a sports season, and (frankly) our culture glamorizes playing through the pain, so it’s often easier to just sit back and ignore it. However, injuries left untreated can make matters worse and even lead to long-term issues. So how do we know when it’s smart to see a doctor or just wait and see if it heals OK on its own?.

Follow these simple guidelines when:

  • You have pain that won’t go away
  • You have pain that affects your daily activities
  • Your pain keeps you awake at night
  • You haven’t been given a diagnosis or started any treatments
  • Your condition may be a risk to others

There are times when it is obvious you should visit an orthopedic doctor immediately. For sudden, acute and traumatic injuries such as broken bones, sprains, strains, dislocations, torn ligaments and pulled muscles, you should visit a specialist immediately so the injury is treated correctly from the beginning. Orthopedic Urgent Care clinics are open 8 a.m.-8 p.m.  every day.

However, for nagging pain, or if you suspect an overuse injury such as tendonitis, stress fracture, tennis elbow or shin splints, simply follow these three steps to identify if you should see a doctor, or wait and see. Feel free to also reference this comprehensive guide compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Step 1. Examine the function. Does it work properly?

The use of an injured body part, regardless of severity, will probably be somewhat painful, but if your limbs cannot bear weight, if you are physically unable to move a part of the body, or if there was a “popping” noise when the injury occurred, there probably is a serious injury that needs to be treated immediately.

Be careful, and try slowly moving the injured body part. Test its range of motion, ability to bear weight and pressure, and its ability to perform normal, everyday functions. Reduced range of motion in joints is a key indicator of an underlying injury. Even if your injury is old, pain has subsided and things “look normal” again, not being able to move the way you could before could be a sign of a serious problem and should be examined by a specialist.

Similarly, if your joint occasionally “locks up” or lacks stability and feels like it’s “giving out,” understand that this is NOT normal and should be treated immediately. The longer an injury is left untreated, the more long-term damage it can cause to the injured joint, as well as all the muscles, ligaments and tissues around it that are working harder to compensate.

Step 2. Examine the form. Does it look abnormal?

Especially if the injury is new, some swelling or bruising is normal. However, if the body part looks disfigured, or if swelling and bruising is rapid and extreme, you should see a specialist immediately.

For minor swelling and minor bruising, you should start to see natural improvement within a few days. However, if swelling and bruising have been present for more than a week and are not subsiding, or if after a week the area is still painful to the touch, you should see a doctor. Sometimes pain will start to go away, but heavy bruising will remain, meaning there still is internal bleeding and a possible injury.

Step 3. Consider your future. Is it actually worth the wait?

We’re not trying to scare you; we just want you to realize that letting injuries go untreated can lead to worse injuries and potentially long-term issues. We understand that athletes, and runners in particular, tend to exercise and compete through injuries so they won’t lose valuable training time or miss important games and events. But that kind of short-term vision isn’t conducive to a sustainable, healthy lifestyle.

The human body is capable of amazing things, but only if it’s well taken care of.

What should I do if I think I’m injured?

If you think you’re injured, the good news is you have a lot of great options to help get you back on your feet. For sudden, acute injuries we recommend visiting an Orthopedic Urgent Care clinic to make sure your injury is treated properly from the beginning. For lingering issues we recommend setting up an appointment at your nearest TCO clinic location.