Your injuries keep recurring.
Repeat injuries—or a series of different injuries—suggest you may have an underlying health problem that isn't being addressed, says Lewis Maharam, M.D., a sports-medicine doctor in New York City and author of the Running Doc's Guide to Healthy Running. Dr. Maharam says he once treated a woman who had recurring fractures in her hip and feet every three months. "She was biomechanically sound, and her bone density test was normal," he said. "But we did a blood test, and found she had a parathyroid tumor."
More: Check Your Form: Running with the Correct Biomechanics
Your doctor doesn't ask about your overall health status
When you go to a doctor complaining of a running injury, it's easy to focus exclusively on the body part that's hurt. But a skilled doctor will also ask questions about your health habits and try to gauge your fitness level, says Jim Chesnutt, M.D., medical director of sports medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. (You should also visit the doctor regularly for the 5 Health Checks Every Athlete Needs.) Runners who aren't getting enough sleep, for example, may be prone to injuries. A diet deficient in calcium and vitamin D may make you vulnerable to stress fractures. Inexperienced runners may be trying to do too much too soon. If your doctor doesn't take the rest of your health into account, consider getting a second opinion.
More: How to Run Injury Free
You haven't been given other ways to stay in shape
A good rehab plan should include exercises to help you stay fit while you're on the road to recovery. "Sometimes runners don't realize they need to take a break and do some cross-training," Dr. Chesnutt says. For example, a runner in treatment for recurrent ankle sprains should work on strengthening her core and upper body while she isn't running. Even more important is that the doctor understands your goals. Knowing you're weeks from a marathon, for example, your doctor may attempt a more aggressive treatment plan. But if you're months away, you may have the time to rest and heal without additional testing or interventions. If your doctor doesn't ask you about your fitness goals, consider seeing another doctor who does.
More: How to Cope with the 5 Stages of Injury Grief
Who Do You Call?
Reach out to the right help. Here are 3 professionals you should call on.
- Primary doctor-Unless you have an established doctor-patient relationship with a sports-physician specialist, call your primary doctor first, says Michael Ross, M.D., of The Performance Lab, because he or she knows you.
- Physical therapist-While straightforward injuries, such as a mild ankle sprain, can be easily managed by your general practitioner, many running pains are the result of muscular imbalances, overtraining or overuse, or poor running mechanics. A physical therapist can tailor a rehab plan to fit your needs and goals.
- Sports specialist-If you've closely followed a rehab plan but aren't seeing results--or if you have complex running problems—it's time to seek a doctor who's done an accredited fellowship in sports medicine, says Lewis Maharam, M.D. These are doctors who've been trained in running mechanics and who can spot the underlying problems that are the cause of many injuries. "The doctor should look at how you run and be able to advise you on things like gait and preventive measures," he says. Find one at www.amssm.org.
More: Injury Prevention for the Endurance Runner
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