The only thing more demoralizing than a running injury is spending time and money to have the problem checked by someone who tells you to pop an ibuprofen and stop running. You can avoid this frustration by finding a health-care provider who's experienced in sports medicine, says Mark Tarnopolsky, Ph.D., M.D., a runner and a physician-researcher at McMaster University Medical Center in Ontario.
Running is a complex activity, and to properly diagnose and treat a running injury, you need someone who is trained to recognize the source of your issue. "Most injuries are due to something readily identifiable—you ramp up training too fast or you get a new pair of shoes that alter your stride," Tarnopolsky says. "You want someone to get to the root of the problem, instead of masking it with an anti-inflammatory and rest."Here's how to find a provider who'll get you—and keep you—up and running. Depending on where you live and what insurance you have, you may need a referral to see a specialist, so check before making an appointment.
MAKE THE CALL: SPORTS-MEDICINE DOCTOR
Physicians with added training in sports medicine are often the best place to start, especially for a new problem. "We can quarterback your care," says John Martinez, M.D., a sports-medicine physician in San Diego. "We may not have all the treatments, but we can help you move through the morass of choices." Sports docs can give you a compre hensive evaluation that includes diagnostic tests, from blood counts to bone scans to MRIs. They'll help you resolve medical issues, such as vitamin deficiencies or exercise-induced asthma, and may refer you to a specialist to rehab injuries like plantar fasciitis or runner's knee.
BEST FOR: Mystery ailments, fatigue, and health issues affecting your running
NOT FOR: Therapy for an already-diagnosed muscle or joint injury
MAKE THE CALL: ORTHOPEDIST
Orthopedists are trained to treat issues affecting the body's bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which makes them a smart choice if you have an ongoing ache or pain that acts up during or after a run, says Angela Smith, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Ideally, you'd see an orthopedist with a sports-medicine specialization who works with athletes to prevent and manage injury. While orthopedists often perform surgery, look for one who is rehabilitation-oriented and operates as a last resort. An orthopedist may oversee your rehab or coordinate that treatment with a physical therapist.
BEST FOR: All types of running injuries—muscle strains and pulls, joint pains and sprains, stress fractures
NOT FOR: General health problems (fatigue, anemia, etc.)
MAKE THE CALL: PODIATRIST
Although podiatrists spend four years of training specializing in feet, their expertise extends beyond the metatarsals. During an exam, they'll check the wear patterns of your running shoes and watch you walk and run to look for biomechanical issues that could be contributing to your injury, says Amol Saxena, a sports podiatrist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Sports podiatrists may recommend a shoe insert or prescribe custommade orthotics, and may also provide strengthening and stretching exercises to resolve issues like plantar fasciitis.
BEST FOR: Foot and ankle-related problems; chronic injuries that often result from poor foot mechanics (runner's knee, iliotibial-band syndrome)
NOT FOR: Acute nonfoot injuries