Have a Sports Injury? Find Out When to See a Doctor

If you blow out your knee playing soccer or dislocate your shoulder during a game of pick-up football, you know you need to see a doctor stat. But many sports injuries are more subtle. Should you see a doctor if your knee sometimes hurts after a long run? What should you do if you pull a muscle playing tennis?

We checked in with Jessica Wertz, DO, a primary care sports medicine physician at Inova Sports Medicine, for advice.

How can I treat my sports injuries at home?

If injuries aren’t serious, it’s reasonable to try treating them yourself before seeing a doctor. Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines for pain and manage injuries with the “RICE” method:

  • R Take a few days off from the activity to give your body time to heal.
  • I Use cold packs to reduce swelling.
  • C Wrap the sore area with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling and provide stability.
  • E Prop an injured foot or leg on pillows to reduce swelling.

When should I see a doctor for a sports injury?

It’s never a bad idea to check in with the doctor if you have concerns about a possible injury. Make an appointment sooner than later if you notice these signs:

  • Significant swelling
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Pain when you bear weight (such as foot or knee pain when walking)
  • Shooting pain that’s not localized to one region
  • Recurrent pain that gets better but comes back again
  • Pain that lingers after a week of taking it easy

Can’t I just wait a while longer to see if my sports injury gets better?

When sports injuries occur, some patients are reluctant — or even afraid — to see a physician. Athletes often worry the doctor will tell them to take time off from the activity they love, Wertz said. But ignoring the problem won’t make it disappear. Some injuries, like stress fractures, can get worse if you ignore them too long. Let an injury linger, and you often set yourself up for bigger problems and a longer recovery. Get it checked out, and you’ll be able to get back sooner to the activities you love.

Should I see a sports medicine doctor?

Primary care doctors can treat sports-related injuries, but there are good reasons to seek out a specialist. Doctors with sports medicine training are up to date on the latest therapies to help you heal faster. With their specialized knowledge, they can help patients find the right treatments and therapies to get back to the game as quickly as possible. Sports medicine physicians can also help find ways to modify activities so the athlete isn’t completely sidelined as they heal.

Injured? Inova Sports Medicine’s team of experts will develop your personalized plan to get you back in the game. Request an appointment today!

Inova Sports Medicine is the Official Sports Medicine Partner of the Washington Nationals.


  1. Henry on January 13, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for helping me to understand that it is a good idea to see a doctor if I am having a lot of swelling with an injury. A couple of days ago, I was out jogging when I stepped awkwardly and sprained my ankle badly. I haven’t been able to walk much in the past few days, so I should probably schedule an appointment with a doctor. It would also probably be a good idea for me to find a physical therapist to visit as well.

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