Toughing Out Sports Injuries: When to See a Doctor


Vitals Injuries Soccer Phil West World Cup Toughing Out Sports Injuries: When to See a Doctor Photo

Pickup soccer match on June 14th prior to the Uruguay-Costa Rica game.

Phil West is an author, father, and soccer fan living in Austin Texas. He just finished travelling the United States where he watched all 64 World Cup matches in a different city each day. He will be documenting his experiences in a book, and you can read more at his blog, We Want The World.

It was my first soccer game out from a winter break where I’d been a bit lacking in my fitness. I was running toward a loose ball in the penalty area, trying to beat a defender to the spot. We arrived at the same time, and while still airborne from the collision – before crashing to the turf and hobbling off the field – I knew I was in trouble. I’d injured the same ankle in much the same way a year ago.

I spent several weeks in denial. I kept trying to run on the injured ankle while experiencing a tingling sensation in my foot. Finally, I decided to seek a professional opinion and visit an orthopedic doctor specializing in sports medicine.

My initial X-ray looked okay, but a follow-up MRI revealed I had a stress fracture. I needed time and rest to heal from an injury that had dogged me for a year – which meant no running and no soccer for three months.

Caring for Sports Injuries at Home

For the millions of Americans like me who participate in sports (more than 200 million over age 6), a sports injury is a real, personal setback that takes time and effort to overcome. According to a Department of Health and Human Services Report, nearly 2 million sports injuries in 2012 required an ER visit. A staggering 12 million participants from ages 5 to 22 suffer some sort of sports injury each year.

Even in best-case scenarios, a sports injury often means at least one trip to the doctor and time away from physical activity. Some of the more common sports injuries are relatively minor, including abrasions, lacerations, minor sprains and strains, and swelling, and can be taken care of at home. Some, like mine, require medical attention.

If an injury is minor, you can use the RICE method as your first line of defense. RICE stands for:

Icing the injured area
Compression on the injured area, and
Elevating the injured area above your heart

When Should I See a Doctor?

The key question for people struggling with a sports injury is when to visit a medical professional. If a sprain or strain isn’t resolving with a few days of RICE treatment, or if an injury involves a knee or Achilles tendon, it’s a good idea to get an informed opinion so you don’t accidentally complicate the injury even further.

There’s no reason to “tough it out” if an injury isn’t resolving. You don’t need to be alone on the path to healing, and your favorite sport will be there waiting for you when you’re physically ready to engage in it again.

Back In the Game 

Three months after my diagnosis, I did get back on the soccer field to play in a charity match. Several weeks later, while traveling for a book I’m writing about American soccer fans and the World Cup, I was able to play a pick-up game on a field set up by America Scores at a World Cup watch party in downtown San Francisco. Though I don’t yet have the endurance that I had before I took three months off, it felt great to finally be playing the sport I love without pain.

Sure, I’m still concerned about re-injuring my ankle. I’m constantly aware that I’m one fateful collision away from going through surgery or rehab again. Still, it’s better to know what to look for than to suffer the same injury and not know what keeps going wrong.

Related: Overuse Injury in Youths