Recently I saw a patient in my clinic who injured his knee. He jumped over a wall during a mud run. When he landed from the jump, he felt his knee buckle. He came to see me looking to find a cause for his knee giving way with physical activity. Unfortunately, I diagnosed him with an ACL tear.
What made his story interesting wasn’t the injury or how it occurred, but when it happened. The original knee injury landing from the jump occurred five years ago, and he never felt he should go to the doctor.
Occasionally I see patients in my office who were injured 24 or 48 hours earlier. Far more often, though, I see athletic people have been dealing with an injury for a long time. It might be a 55-year-old recreation league tennis player with an uncomfortable clicking sensation in his shoulder when he serves. Or it might be a 32-year-old female jogger who feels a nagging pain in the front of her knees when she runs down hills.
Three reasons people are reluctant to go to the doctor
Why do we wait so long to see a sports medicine doctor? These are the three reasons I most often hear active people give for not having an injury examined.
You think the pain will go away on its own.
Maybe this rationale comes from the “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” approach to medical issues of prior generations. You might be accustomed to immediately applying ice and elevating your injured body part even if you have never heard of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Plus, aches and pains seem fairly common with regular exercise and training for sports.
At some point, though, you have to decide if your pain is actually improving.
You don’t want surgery.
It is completely understandable for you to want to avoid the knife and possibly months of rehab after surgery. A common misconception about orthopaedic surgeons is that we are trying to find a reason to operate on every patient. Fortunately in sports medicine, most injuries don’t require surgery. Sure, some injuries do ultimately need surgery, but a large percentage do not. Often simple remedies, such as physical therapy or short-term changes in activity, can resolve the problem before surgery is needed.
You don’t want to be shut down.
You don’t want to hear that you will miss the rest of your season. You don’t want to be told you have to stop running. I definitely get it.
One of the goals of sports medicine doctors and surgeons – arguably our main goal – is to get you back to the sports and exercise that you love to do. It might take some treatments like physical therapy. Yes, it might occasionally require arthroscopic surgery to fix structural damage in your knee or shoulder. And we will probably advise you if and when you could be doing harm to yourself and making the problem worse. But we are not looking to shut you down – in fact, just the opposite.
Believe me, I understand these reasons for not seeing a sports medicine doctor. I have pain in my shoulder and elbow that bothers me with certain exercises in the weight room. I’ve had them off and on for years and managed to work through them by adjusting my weight routine.
Tip for deciding whether to go to the doctor
Having said that, I believe that if you can’t do what you want to do in your sport or exercise as well as you want to do it, it can be a good idea to go to the doctor and have it checked out. You likely can try simple remedies – and avoid surgery – that could help you get back to your desired activities.
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