When it comes to small annoyances and injuries, the goal is often to treat it as quickly as possible in order to not miss out on valuable training time. However, there are a few times that you should see a doctor versus attempting self-care and risking the chance of further injury.
“Many people successfully self-treat small injuries such as IT band syndrome, sprains, strains and plantar fasciitis and in most cases dynamic rest, ice, stretching, rolling and strengthening will do the trick,” shares Dr. Josh Emdur, co-founder of SteadyMD Running, the world’s first primary care practice, fully online, just for runners. “However, the danger is that ‘small injuries’ can turn into larger injuries that can ruin a training cycle if not cared for appropriately early on.”
Dr. Emdur adds that the first step is to partner with a physician that understands your sport and can help you best prepare for the stress it will put on your body. Then, if any of the following do arise, you have someone who knows your personal history and can advise you on proper treatment and care.
It can be tempting to pop a blister at home, but letting a doctor care for any running blisters that arise is always the best choice. Also, according to Dr. Christopher Segler, an award-winning podiatrist and owner of Doc on the Run based in the San Francisco Bay area, not all blisters actually need to be popped. Though draining it relieves pressure, it can also let bacteria in.
“Sometimes treating a blister at home is fine, but there is always a possibility if you pop it that it will become infected,” notes Martha Pyron, MD, a sports medicine physician and owner of Medicine in Motion in Austin, Texas. “You should cover it with antibiotic ointment and bandage and see a doctor as soon as possible if you have worsening symptoms of pain, redness, discharge or heat in the area.”
Toenail Pain and Pressure
The most common toenail injury runners have is black toenails, however, if you are experiencing pain and pressure, there may be a different problem at hand.
“Black toenails are a result of nail trauma usually from improperly fitting shoes. Most ‘black toenails’ don’t need to be drained,” explains Dr. Emdur. “In the case of a large subungal hematoma—or fluid collection under the nail—that is painful and tender to touch, I would recommend that it be drained by a medical professional due to risks of further injury to the nail bed and infection.”
This draining requires drilling a hole in the nail and similar to draining a blister, this lets bacteria into the area. In this case, a medical professional should always treat your nail.
It has been found that a sprained ankle can lead to much greater risk of injury to the ankle down the road. When it comes to trying to treat a sprain yourself, it is important to note that if you don’t treat it properly there could be future problems. In order to know if you need to see a doctor, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, also of SteadyMD Running, recommends you follow the Ottawa Ankle Rules. If you do not pass that test, then you should schedule an appointment with your physician.
“The severity of the sprain can change the treatment,” adds Dr. Segler. “If you can’t assess the severity of the sprain, you might either under-treat or over-treat the injury.”
Leaving the treatment plan up to your doctor instead of just relying on ice and rest can help ensure you don’t miss out on any training time in the future due to an unresolved sprain.
Any aches or pains in your muscles follow the same protocol as a sprained ankle, where you want to be sure to visit a doctor to make sure you understand and treat the correct injury.
“A lot of runners have muscle pains that end up being chronic and ongoing, and if you have tried the typical stretch and massage options—even deep tissue work—but keep having the problem, you likely have another reason causing the problem,” explains Dr. Pyron. “See your doctor to figure out what that reason is so you can fix that underlying problem instead of just treating the muscle symptom you keep getting.”
Finally, if you are experiencing mid-foot pain, it is key to see a doctor versus simply choosing ice and rest. Because your feet are your main tool in running, taking extra precautions is always best.
“There is one injury a runner cannot afford to miss: Lisfranc’s fracture,” notes Dr. Segler. “This is pain in the mid-foot resulting from the tear of a very small ligament that stabilizes the entire mid-foot complex. These injuries are very difficult diagnose, and very easy to miss. This injury is often misdiagnosed as a ‘mid-foot sprain.’”
In the end, if you know something is wrong, err on the side of caution and see a doctor. Dr. Cucuzzella adds that if you are able to get in tune with your body and understand the right way to push yourself and recover, you can often avoid injury and know when something is serious enough to need a professional opinion.