Should you see a doc?
It was a surge of pain so strong that I immediately fell to the ground, gripping my ankle. My tempo run was over. No negotiating, no walking it out, no "just give it five minutes." My nighttime run with the hubby ended half a mile before its scheduled finish because I had misjudged a leap from the street to the sidewalk, rolling my ankle in the process. This was most definitely cause for a doctor visit.
But this is an easy-to-spot case. Most times, when we feel early signs of trouble, we ignore them. We train through them, not even taking a day off or switching our workouts to rest the affected area. The result, of course, is that a small injury becomes big, and we end up paying for some doctor's two-week holiday to the BVI's over New Year's.
But that doesn't have to be the case. GOTRIbal expert coach and World Ironman age group champion Wendy Mader tells her athletes to weigh these factors when thinking about whether an injury requires calling a doc:
• How long has it been hurting? Two days? Three weeks? Don't train through anything that is still causing significant discomfort weeks later.
• Is it improving? When the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) doesn't seem to be making a difference, it's time to get a doctor to weigh in.
• Could it be your technique -- or overtraining? If you didn't have a noticeably painful or acute injury, you could be overtraining or have a biomechanical problem causing the pain (for example, your running form is bad). Visit with a specialist to have your technique reviewed. It may be that the volume of training or poor form is starting to affect your hip, knee or other joints.
• Does it make sense? Talk to a doctor if the issue just doesn't add up. For example, if your quads are constantly sore only while running, regardless of the amount of time or distance you run, look into more sophisticated means of resolving the issue. (In this case, a muscle activation technique from a PT could help).
Above all, trust your own knowledge and experience and listen to your body. If something seems out of sorts, it's better to check it out than ignore it. You'll learn more about your body's tendencies and idiosyncrasies as you develop in sport, so listen, learn and head to the doc before anything turns into a big problem. Always ask yourself: Do I want to be paying for this later (i.e. 10 weeks of no exercise) or do I want to take care of it now (i.e. four to eight days of rest)?
And for you hard-core junkies out there -- there's plenty of other activities to get your heart rate and your sweat glands working overtime. Elliptical intervals anyone?