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Some injuries come and go. But for aches, pains, and ailments that keep you out for an extended period of time, it’s best to call in the professionals. These five fields are the most commonly sought by injured runners. While advice from any of these doctors is likely to be sound, starting your search within the correct field (and asking the right questions) can speed the diagnosis—and your recovery.
From the Runner’s World Injury Prevention Guide, one of more than a dozen free training guides available from Runner’s World.
MAKE THE CALL: Sports Medicine Doctor
Physicians with added training in sports medicine are often the best place to start. Sports docs can give you a comprehensive evaluation that includes diagnostic tests, from blood counts to bone scans to MRIs. They’ll help you resolve medical issues, such as vitamin deficiencies, and may refer you to a specialist to rehab injuries like plantar fasciitis or runner’s knee.
Best For: Mystery ailments, fatigue, and health issues affecting your running
Not For: Therapy for an already-diagnosed muscle or joint injury
Ask: Will you refer to me to a specialist if necessary?
Good providers recognize the limits of their expertise and aren’t afraid to send you to a colleague for additional tests.
MAKE THE CALL: Orthopedist
Orthopedists are trained to treat issues affecting bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Seeing an orthopedist is a smart choice if you have an ongoing ache or pain that acts up during or after a run. Ideally, you’d see an orthopedist with a sports-medicine specialty who has plenty of experience working with athletes. Look for one who is rehabilitation-oriented and considers surgery to be a last resort.
Best For: All types of running injuries—muscle strains and pulls, joint pains and sprains, stress fractures
Not For: General health problems (fatigue, anemia, etc.)
Ask: Do you run?
While it’s not necessary, it definitely helps if your orthopedist is a runner. At the very least, the doctor should have experience getting runners back out on the roads again. Even better, ask the doctor for a reference from another runner.
MAKE THE CALL: Podiatrist
Podiatrists spend four years of training specializing in feet. They’ll check the wear patterns of your running shoes and watch you walk and run to look for biomechanical issues.
Best For: Foot- and ankle-related problems; chronic injuries that often result from poor foot mechanics (runner’s knee, iliotibial band syndrome)
Not For: Acute non-foot injuries
Ask: Do you have a specialty in sports medicine?
You should look for someone who has done a sports-medicine fellowship or other sports-related training in their discipline.
MAKE THE CALL: Physical Therapist
PTs are trained to watch people move and figure out what’s going wrong. A good physical therapist will spend up to an hour on your initial evaluation. Often, physical therapists work with physicians and orthopedists to diagnose problems. They devise rehab plans and prescribe exercises to keep you healthy.
Best For: Rehabbing known injuries
Not For: General health problems (fatigue, anemia) or if you suspect you have a fracture
Ask: What should I bring to the appointment?
The answer should include your training log and running shoes.
MAKE THE CALL: Chiropractor
Chiropractors can be a valuable part of your medical team. Most will watch you walk or run to identify risk areas that can lead to injuries. Some will also recommend stretches and strengthening exercises to correct gait imbalances.
Best For: Back pain; injuries that may not be responding to other methods
Not for: Traumatic injuries like fractures or torn ligaments
Ask: How much time will you spend with me?
Expect at least a 30-minute visit.