Chiropractor? Sports physician? How do you know who to see and when? Find out how to decide who to see first when it comes to running-related injuries.
A question about a running-related injury recently came up in one of my running groups. It went along the lines of, “I’ve been feeling a pain in my hamstring. Does anyone have experience with hamstring tendinitis and what did you do about it?” A few people responded, myself included, and offered their experiences and opinions. Seeing so many different takes on the same injury got me thinking. Why did so many of us have such different experiences with the same injury? It’s a fairly straightforward answer, of course. It depends on the severity of the injury and the root cause in the first place. But who do you choose to see first? A chiropractor? A sports physician? There are so many variables to consider and so many potential outcomes.
If you’re faced with a sports injury and don’t know who to call or see, I’d like to share how I consider injuries and decide where to go first.
Chiropractor vs. Sports Physician: Who Should Runners See First?
First things first. When I’m faced with questions about aches, pains, and injuries, I try to pinpoint what could be causing the issue and if I’m qualified to help. If it’s a simple fix like needing to foam roll a tight calf, I go ahead and help. But if it seems like a trickier issue or I’m not confident I know what’s going on, I usually refer my runners to one of two people: a chiropractor or a sports medicine physician.
A sports-specific chiropractor can work wonders without the high price tag of seeing a sports physician. On the flip side, some people have great insurance and would rather see a doctor initially. When I’m considering myself and my runners, there are a few things I consider:
a. severity of pain
b. soft tissue vs. bone pain
c. non-sidelining injury vs. potential long-term damage
d. nagging or persistent injury
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor nor am I a chiropractor. Having said that, I am a running coach and certified personal trainer. I’ve also had my fair share of sports-related injuries. These aren’t concrete guidelines and should not be treated as such. As with any injury, it’s best to seek the opinion of a medical professional — a chiropractor, sports physician, physical therapist, etc.
When to see a chiropractor:
If the pain isn’t severe, the injury is likely a soft tissue injury (muscles), my runner isn’t sidelined from activity, and it’s a sports-focused chiropractor, I usually send my runners to see a chiropractor.
When to see a sports physician:
If the pain is severe, the injury has completely sidelined my runner, it’s a potential bone issue (like a stress fracture), or the injury hasn’t responded to past chiropractic care, I refer my runners to a sports physician.
Other things to consider
A couple things to keep in mind when you’re faced with an injury and deciding who to see first:
- A good chiropractor will refer you to a doctor if the issue is out of their scope of practice.
- It’s sometimes quicker to get in to see a chiropractor first.
- It’s sometimes less expensive to see a chiropractor even though you usually need to pay out of pocket. (This can be true even after insurance has covered a portion of your medical bill.)
- Some insurance plans cover chiropractic visits — be sure to check with your insurance.
- Sports physicians are amazing and can pinpoint an injury that could take several sessions to pinpoint with a chiropractor.
- Doctors can write orders for affiliated physical therapy which may be covered by insurance.
- Some doctors are quick to write scripts, order you to quit your preferred physical activity, or suggest surgery or unnecessary aids like orthotics.
- If you do decide to see a chiropractor, make sure you go to a sports-focused practice. If it’s not and you go with a sports-specific injury, you won’t get the care you need.
- Additionally, if you see a sports physician, make sure they appreciate the sport you do so you’re working with someone you trust.
- Not all injuries are created equal and everyone’s experiences and needs will be different. Follow the advice and protocol of the healthcare professional you seek out.
Chiropractors and Sports Physicians
There are so many variables to consider when choosing a healthcare professional when it comes to sports injuries. I highly recommend doing some due diligence and finding someone you trust and respect. Take into consideration the severity of the injury, cost of treatment, and all the other things I mentioned, and hopefully you’ll find someone to help you treat and rehab your injury. Often times you’ll even find chiropractors and sports physicians who work closely together to get the best results for their patients.
Do you have a sports physician or chiropractor you see regularly?
Have you experienced Graston, ART, cupping, or dry needling? Not sure what I’m talking about? Learn more here.