Question: How do I know if my sports-related injury is bad enough to require a doctor, and what kind of doctor should I see?
Answer: Well, there are two types of injuries we see commonly in sports and one is traumatic and the other is overuse, or repetitive-type injuries.
The traumatic injuries in general should be self-evident whether you should see a physician or not. If you can't walk on the limb, if it's severe enough to cause disfiguration, then obviously you should see a doctor. Go to the local emergency room.
For the overuse-type injuries, there are a few signs that we look for that are worrisome or warning signs that might prompt you to see a physician. One is swelling. So if that injured joint or body part is swollen, that's one tip-off that this is a more severe injury. If you add discoloration to that, the bruising type of discoloration you get with bleeding in that structure, that's another tip-off that the injury is more severe and perhaps you should see a health care professional.
Other signs when we're talking about a joint injury, such as your knee or your ankle, we look for range of motion. If you have lost range of motion in that joint, that's another warning sign.
And then finally, we look for what we term mechanical symptoms in the joint. And that would be catching or giving way or locking of a joint. Those are signs that perhaps something has become torn or displaced within the joint and that certainly should be evaluated by a health care professional.
Now, the next question is: What type of health care professional should you see with a sports-type injury? In a lot of situations if you're on a team or at a university or in an organized sports program there's an athletic trainer or a team physician that may be covering your team or your league and that's who you should see to begin with. If not, if you're the so-called "weekend warrior" and don't have a team physician or athletic trainer nearby then in the local community there's often a sports specialist. And this can be anywhere from an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine to a family practitioner or primary care doctor who, again, has done a sports medicine fellowship and specializes in sports medicine.
Short of that, the local family practitioner, family doctor, internist is a good resource and a good place to start with your sports injuries. There's also physical therapy groups in and around most cities that have certain expertise in sports injuries and can give you an initial evaluation and then can refer you on to one of the local sports specialists