As a runner, you are likely familiar with the minor aches and pains that can accompany intense efforts or longer training runs. But when an ache turns into an actual injury and sidelines you, it is time to call in the professionals.
Knowing how to start your search is critical to receiving the best care, and knowing the right questions to ask will ensure that all bases are covered and speed up your recovery time.
Here are five specialists that every runner should know about:
A chiropractor is a doctor who specializes in corrective alignments of the spine and pelvis. This is an important person to see regularly, as they can prevent many skeletal alignment problems before they occur.
When to use: Preventive maintenance. Also for any recurring back or hip pain, such as sciatica.
When not to use: For anything that is actually torn, ruptured, or broken, as these conditions would usually require surgery. Chiropractors are strictly non-invasive.
Questions to ask: Are they strictly a hands-only clinic or does the doctor also use electrical stimulation? Will there be an initial x-ray performed during diagnosis?
This is a physician who is specially trained to handle athletes and their specific injuries. Since they are a primary-care physician, they can perform tests and make clinical decisions regarding the course of treatment. They can also refer you to another type of specialist, such a physical therapist.
When to use: This doctor is best used for any health issue that seems to stem from or be connected to your running, such as chronic fatigue or a longer-than-normal recovery time, or any ailment that can’t be explained.
When not to use: This is a physician, so you would only make an appointment for anything that has not already been diagnosed.
Questions to ask: What other types of specialists do he usually refer to and how often?
While technically not a doctor, this is a specialist that you will likely end up being referred to for any injury needing longer-term rehab. A physical therapist is also a great person to visit if you suspect a problem with your gait that could later lead to injury as they are highly skilled at detecting body movement problems.
When to use: Rehabilitation for an injury that has already been diagnosed, as well as discovering gait/stride problems.
When not to use: If you believe you have a fracture or are experiencing general problems with your health.
Questions to ask: How long will the initial examination be (expect a good one to take at least one hour) and will there be a comprehensive movement analysis done?
This doctor is similar to a sports medicine doctor, except they specialize only in the foot and ankle. Like a physical therapist, they are very skilled at detecting biomechanical issues. A podiatrist can even go as far as performing surgery if required. Also common are cortisol injections for acute cases.
When to use: Acute foot injuries, as well as problems related to stride and foot strike, such as IT band issues or runners knee.
When not to use: For anything that doesn’t directly involve the foot.
Questions to ask: This is very important for this type of doctor. First, find out if he or she runs, or is at least sympathetic to runners. What is the usual course of treatment for your type of injury? What percentage of injuries are treated by surgery or injections? Be very wary of a podiatrist who goes straight for the cortisol or scalpel. This is where it pays to ask other runners for a good recommendation. Also, bring your running shoes to your appointment, as a good podiatrist will want to see the wear pattern on the soles.
An orthopedist is a doctor that specializes only in treating problems relating directly to bones and the corresponding connective tissues. This type of doctor can treat a whole host of issues that may not have anything to do with running. For that reason, it is wise to find one who emphasizes sports medicine in their clinic.
When to use: Although an orthopedist can treat virtually any running related injury, they are most commonly sought out for the more severe ones such as stress fractures and ruptured tendons.
When not to use: Health problems not related to bones or connective tissue.
What to ask: Like a Podiatrist, strive to find one that specializes in the treatment of athletes.
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