When you're dealing with a sports injury, it can be tough to know whether it's something you can manage on your own or if you should seek the help of a physical therapist. While there are certainly some injuries that don't require the attention of a medical professional, you don't want to misjudge and end up in even more pain by not pursuing physical therapy when you should have.
We reached out to three physical therapists at OrthoCarolina - Donna Goodwin, Jennifer Hallenbeck, and Molly Dudick - to learn more about when you should and shouldn't see a physical therapist after sustaining a sports injury.
What Are Some Common Reasons People Might Pursue Physical Therapy?
- Kneecaps, or the front of their knees
- Stiffness (which could indicate swelling inside the joint)
- Weak and painful movements around the injured site
- Instability when walking or climbing stairs
- A "catching" sensation in joint movement or during daily tasks
What "Red Flags" Indicate That You Need to Seek Medical Attention for an Injury?
- Pain with numbness and tingling to the front and side of the lower leg - if you experience this when running, it may indicate that you have anterior compartmental syndrome
- Waking up in the night with pain that does not dissipate as you change your sleeping position
- Inability to bear weight through one of your extremities
- Pain in the lower leg with numbness - this could indicate nerve impingement in your back
What Are Some Injuries That Can Be Managed On Your Own, Without Seeing a Physical Therapist?
Additionally, if you sprain your ankle, you can typically treat that injury on your own using the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. You should also move your ankle gently within a pain-reduced range to decrease swelling and assist with joint awareness.
You can treat anterior knee pain on your own, as well. All you need to do is take a break from physical activity, ice the injury, and use a patellar knee sleeve. It's also recommended that you try some quad sets, straight leg raises, and hamstring and calf stretches.
After Going to Physical Therapy, What Can You Do On Your Own to Prevent Injuries Moving Forward?
Their other primary recommendation? "Be aware of your body in space to prevent injury, and only allow your body to perform those activities for which it is prepared or trained to do," they advised. "If you have not done yoga or weight training before, take a class that is easy first, or meet with a staff member at the gym to learn how to use the equipment."
Do You Need to Be Injured to See a Physical Therapist?
"We have a wealth of knowledge in prevention-based routines," explained the three OrthoCarolina PTs we interviewed. "Sometimes, it is best to see a PT before you start an activity, as they can assess your specific body and the stresses that may be placed on it in order to prevent an injury, or decrease the likelihood of an area being strained."