Dear Doctor: Does My Sports Injury Need to be Seen Right Away?

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My son sprained his knee playing soccer. How long should we wait before taking him to a doctor?

Dear Reader:

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The severity of orthopedic injuries can be extremely tricky to pin down, which is why the best advice is to go straight to an orthopedic expert so we diagnose and treat the injury properly with the fastest healing time and best possible outcome.

You don’t see an orthopedic surgeon just for surgery. We prefer to see patients as soon after the sprain, joint injury or fall as possible, because what you do on Day 1 can make a big difference in the healing process. “Giving it time” or “waiting it out” is not advisable because what you think may only be a minor pulled muscle may in reality be a fracture, break or ligament or tendon tear – and these need to be diagnosed and dealt with right away, especially if it’s severe enough to require surgery. You want to know this right away. Waiting too long runs the risk of the injured bone or tissue starting to heal in the wrong position, which can require slower healing or permanent disability.

When in doubt, look for the following indications that you may need to call an orthopedist:

  1. You can’t bear weight on it. This is a sign that it’s more than just a bruise – and could possibly be a fracture or ruptured tendon. The pain is a sign that the body is trying to protect a serious injury.
  2. You are swelling up. This is actually the movement of fluid and white blood cells into the area and is a sign of significant injury, especially if it occurs around the knee. If this is happening, you should definitely seek care within 24 to 48 hours.
  3. It’s painful. You can’t control the pain with OTC meds like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and you are having difficulty sleeping. While these medications may take the edge off, they are actually slowing down the healing. Inflammation is the body’s first step in recovery, and these medications inhibit those signals the body needs to recruit those healing cells.

The Golden Rule: If it hurts, is swelling up, and you can’t walk on it normally, call your orthopedist. Our board-certified orthopedic specialists in joint health, sports medicine and rehabilitation see patients at the Center for Advanced Medicine & Surgery the same day for all orthopedic injuries, with advanced imaging and MRI right onsite. Unless the injury is severe, doctors will typically prescribe conservative, non-operative individualized treatments to get you back in motion as soon as possible.

It is always a good idea to also practice RICE (Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation) immediately following orthopedic injuries. This will help to relieve pain and reduce the chance of further injury while you are waiting for your appointment.

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Dr. Michael Gott. Courtesy Photo.
Dr. Michael Gott. Courtesy Photo.

Dr. Michael Gott is a fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in conditions of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee and ankle. He sees patients at the Center for Advanced Medicine & Surgery in White Plains. To make a same-day appointment, please call 914-849-7897.

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