Which Injury Specialist?

When you're injured and you want help immediately, it's often hard to know where to turn. Cut through the confusion with this guide to the world of sports medicine


Posted: 5 June 2002
by Rob Watts

Runners get injured. There’s no point denying it and no reason to hide it. That’s the bad news. The good news, though, is that most running injuries are soft-tissue injuries which you can resolve yourself with ice, rest and perhaps a dose of cross-training.

But some injuries prove stubborn. They don’t clear up; or if they do, they swiftly recur.

If this happens you may start to think about seeing a medical specialist. But which one? There’s an array of specialists around, all claiming that they can help runners. Chiropractors, osteopaths, sports doctors, physiotherapists, podiatrists and sports masseurs can all lay claim to expertise in treating running injuries.

“It can be extremely confusing,” confesses John Betser, an osteopath who runs sports injury clinics in Dunstable and Bedford. “There are no absolute guidelines as to which word to use for which treatment. There are seven osteopaths and three physios in our practice, and when we sit down and discuss things we fight a constant battle with nebulous language. It’s impossible to pin down exactly what frequently-used terms such as ‘manipulation’ or ‘adjustment’ actually mean.”

So where do you start? Well, we suggest you start with your family GP, and although they are by definition generalists, your doctor may be able to cure many of the more simple running problems. If they are unable to help you with your particular problem, then they can usually refer you to other medical specialists within the NHS who can; or, depending upon the GP, they could also recommend an alternative in the private sector who will see you more quickly. Another practical element of the referral for those of you with private medical insurance, is that the insurance company will often only pay for private treatment following a recommendation from your GP.

Independent of your GP, you could also seek out a sports injury clinic through your existing running contacts. Often, practitioners work in close contact with one another, so if you have a club physio they might be able to recommend an osteopath or a chiropractor familiar with running problems. The staff at your local running shop may also have information. And each month RUNNER’S WORLD provides details of doctors and specialists all over the country who frequently treat runners.

When you come to actually visit the specialist, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Specialists can be a great source of advice, not just about clearing up injuries, but about preventing problems in the future. Then, as you gain more knowledge and experience, you’ll have a more precise understanding of how to avoid injuries, and also, if you do pick one up, of which practitioner to consult for which injury. Although the advice which follows should help you to gain a better understanding of the medical professionals available, with a rough guide to their area of specialisation, medicine is invariably more grey than black and white. Many of these medical professionals work together and complement each other, rather than being in competition with each other for your custom. Nor, for that matter, do they have strictly defined areas of specialisation. Indeed, many of them cross over into the same areas and may prescribe a similar type of treatment for the same injury. Finally, there is unfortunately no objective way of assessing one medical professional against another, even among those belonging to the same professional body. So, the best practitioner for you is the one that keeps you running injury-free.

Chiropractors
Chiropractors are best known for manual manipulations of the spine and neck joints to cure back and neck injuries. However, most chiropractors treat the extremities as well. They concentrate on applying pressure to the bones and joints, characterised by clicks and crunches. More...

Sports doctors
Sports doctors treat the musculoskeletal system – ligaments, joints, bones, tendons, muscles and nerves. Some generalists treat the entire human body, others specialise in specific areas of the body or in a specific joint, such as the knee. More...

Osteopaths
Whereas chiropractors are likely to crunch and click the bones, osteopaths are more likely to apply pressure to the soft tissue: the muscles, the ligaments, and the tendons. More...

Chartered physiotherapists
Physiotherapists use a variety of treatments to help muscles and joints overcome injury and work to their full potential. These treatments include: exercise programmes to improve mobility and strengthen muscles; manipulation and mobilisation to reduce pain and stiffness; electrotherapy such as ultrasound to break down scar tissue; acupuncture; hydrotherapy; and massage. More...

Podiatrists
The myth is that podiatrists won’t give you a second thought unless you’re laid low with foot pain. In actual fact, although podiatrists do specialise in the lower body, podiatry is essentially the treatment of gait and posture problems, which could be located anywhere from your neck to your toes. More...

Sports masseurs
Sports masseurs knead and stroke the muscles with their hands to relieve muscle tension and improve circulation. Massage can improve flexibility, but one of the main benefits to runners is simply relaxation. More...


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