Here are six telltale signs that you might need physical therapy.
It’s a runner’s worst fear: you’re running when it suddenly feels as if something jumped up and bit you in the calf. You tore a muscle. The good news is that with rest and rehab, you’ll be back on the road in no time. However, some injuries are not so obvious and can be trickier to treat—that nagging pain in your left glute or the ache in your right knee that starts 45 minutes into every run. How do you know when the injury is serious and requires a visit to a physical therapist? Ashleigh Bordwell, PT at Rehab United in San Diego, offers six ways to determine when it is time to see a physical therapist.
1. Pain lingers after three or four days of resting and icing
At the onset of any ache or pain, the best plan of attack is to take a few days off from the sport that brought on the injury and spend 20 minutes several times a day icing the affected area. “The best thing with any injury is to give yourself a few days off,” Bordwell explained. “And then get back into your sport to see if your symptoms have gone away or if they’re still occurring.” If you have taken several days of rest and the pain continues to come back, it is time to see a physical therapist.
2. Reoccurring dull pain
Pain often subsides with rest and icing. But with more serious injuries, symptoms will repeatedly come back and linger until the underlying injury has been addressed.
3. One traumatic event
Some injuries, such as muscle tears and broken bones, are easy to spot, as they are brought on by one traumatic event. “If you watched yourself roll your ankle and it swelled up or, after swimming, you slipped and fell getting out of the pool, you’re going to want to come in and get it checked out,” said Bordwell.
4. Meds don’t control the pain
Many endurance athletes are used to aches and pains. “It comes with the territory of being an endurance athlete,” Bordwell admitted. However, if over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and pain-relief drugs aren’t offering any reprieve, get it checked out.
5. Pain is acute and sharp
Dull, lingering pain is most likely treatable with rest and ice, though if the pain is sharp and centralized, this can be an indication of a more serious injury, such as a muscle pull or stress fracture.
6. Noticeable or visible changes
You know your body best, and the more experienced you become, the more in tune you’ll become with your body. “If at the end of a day of training you notice your ankle is swollen or if you can’t pull as well on your left arm as your right when swimming, you’re going to cause one injury to get worse or cause another injury if you don’t see a PT,” Bordwell said.
This piece first appeared in the June 2012 issue of Competitor magazine.