I’m injured. When do I Seek Medical Help?

May 15, 2015

Lisa Reinke, a physical therapist with Bellin Health Sports Medicine, writes about evaluating your injury and when it’s time to seek help:

Running has a lot of benefits. It improves your health and cardiovascular fitness, and can aid in weight loss. Running can help relieve stress and bring you happiness when you’re feeling down.

So when you can’t run, it can be tough on your health, as well as your emotions. I’ve been there and I know this feeling well.

Too often, runners try to run through pain, thinking it will just go away or that the challenge of pushing through is just part of the sport. In my physical therapy practice, I most often see runners who wait far too long, push far too hard and wait until the last minute to see someone about their injury.

Most runners will experience a running-related injury at some point. But the sooner an injury is identified and treated, the sooner a runner can get back to his or her training routine. The longer an injury sticks with a runner, the more chronic the symptoms become, making it increasingly difficult for someone to get through rehab and back to the road. Chronic pain can affect the course of treatment and reduce overall physical health. In addition, it is often associated with feelings of depression.

If you experience pain with running, here are some initial steps to take to evaluate your injury:

Stop and reflect
The first and most important step to take is to stop and recognize and evaluate your symptoms. For example, if you experience knee pain during a run, when does it occur? Does the knee pain go away after you stop running? After the run is completed, do you still have pain in your knee with walking, stairs, kneeling or sitting?

If pain is present outside of running, take one to two days off of running — or any activities that increase your pain — to see if it gets better. If your pain diminishes with daily activities, return to your training schedule and reassess your symptoms. Do they occur again?

Rate your pain 
Medical professionals use a 0 to 10 scale to evaluate pain, where 0 indicates no pain and 10 indicates the worst pain imaginable. If, for example, your pain is a 5 after one run and a 7 during the next, your body is telling you something. At that point, it is usually smart to rest.

If your pain has affected daily tasks (walking, sitting, stairs, getting out of a chair, job duties, sleeping, etc.) and has not reduced between your training runs, it is time to rest. Rest until your pain is completely gone with daily activities before returning to running.

If you have pain only with running and each training run is increasing your symptoms, you should rest. Most running injuries that occur will reduce and resolve themselves in 7-10 days and it may be necessary to rest for this amount of time.

Ice can help to reduce any swelling related to your area of pain, especially if the injury and swelling have occurred within the last few days. Do not place ice or ice packs directly on the skin, but use a towel, shirt or pillow case to act as a barrier and prevent frostbite.

Ice can also be used to reduce pain in an area where there is no swelling. Use ice for 15-20 minutes, removing it if it becomes too cold to handle. Apply ice two to three times per day as needed for symptom relief.

Seek medical advice
If your symptoms do not resolve in seven to 10 days, consult your physician, physical therapist or running specialist. Seek immediate medical attention if you are unable to bear weight due to your pain. A physician will evaluate your symptoms, rule out any serious injuries and refer you to physical therapy or advise you on reducing your pain and returning to running. If you do not have a regular doctor,

Bellin Health can help you access sports medicine-trained physicians and orthopedic specialists to evaluate your injury.

I hope you do not find yourself injured. But if you do, take comfort in knowing we have a team of experts ready to help.

I wish you continued happiness and health in your training. Enjoy every step of your health journey!

Lisa Reinke is a physical therapist with Bellin Sports Medicine who specializes in the treatment of running-related injuries and gait assessments for the injured runner or walker. Lisa has participated in several road races, bike rides and triathlons. You may email Lisa with any questions regarding running or walking injuries: [email protected].