Which Injury Expert Should I See?

It’s a sad fact that distance runners often get injured. Some estimates have said 30%, but others as high as 75%. But regardless of the statistics, being injured is a stressful experience. So why make it even more stressful by not knowing which injury expert you should see? So much time, and money, can be wasted by going to the wrong fitness professional and not getting the resolution or care that you need.

So here is the low-down on the four most common injury experts you are likely to consider in those hard times.

The Physiotherapist

Physiotherapists can work in many different specialties, but for this post we’ll focus on musculoskeletal (of the muscles, bones and joints). A physiotherapist will assess you and your movement, and use whichever technique(s) they think are appropriate to the injury, including:

  • Movement and exercise – helping to restore movement
  • Manual therapy techniques – using their hands to relieve pain and stiffness, and encourage blood flow to the injured area
  • Aquatic therapy – using water as resistance, or to relieve pressure on the injured area while moving
  • Application of heat or cold – to control inflammation and blood flow
  • Acupuncture – to release tension and knots in the soft tissue
  • Ultrasound – to reduce inflammation and promote healing

Best For:

If you already have an injury, but you’re really not sure what it is or what best course of treatment to take.

The Sports Therapist

Sports therapists are very similar to physiotherapists, except their education focuses solely on sports injuries and performance. They also tend to do more manual therapy training. Sports therapists are unlikely have the breadth of knowledge that a physiotherapist will have, for example in areas such as neurology, breathing problems, and intensive care or recovery from major surgery.

Like a physiotherapist, a sports therapist will perform an assessment, often looking at posture and gait as well as the injured area. They will then choose a technique, such as the ones listed above – though manual therapy will more than likely play a part. Sports therapists tend not to have acupuncture training, unless they have done this separately.

Best For:

Maintenance treatment to help nip niggles in the bud before they develop into injuries.

The Chiropractor

Chiropractors assess, treat and prevent mechanical disorders of the bones, joints and soft tissue, using a range of manual therapy techniques with a focus on manipulation of the spine. They may also offer advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle, and will likely prescribe rehabilitation programmes including exercises you can do at home. Some chiropractors also offer acupuncture.

People often refer to having their back “cracked” when seeing a chiropractor, this popping or cracking sound is incidental to the treatment and is a result of changes in pressure in the joint and gasses that have dissolved in the joint fluid to be released. The noise is neither negative nor positive, and does not indicate that a joint has been realigned – just like cracking the knuckles does not make them “go back into place”.

Best For:

Issues with pelvis and/or spinal alignment and treatment of biomechanical problems.

The Osteopath

Osteopaths detect and treat health problems by moving, stretching and massaging the muscles and joints. Based around the idea that wellbeing depends on a person’s bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons function smoothly together, osteopaths believe that manual therapy treatment allows the body to heal itself. The most common ailments treated are back, neck or shoulder pain, though other musculoskeletal issues are also treated.

Some osteopaths also claim to treat conditions such as asthma, digestive problems and period pain, through manipulation of the viscera (the organs in the main cavities of the body) and fascia (the connective tissue that encases the bones muscles and soft tissue.

Best For:

Holistic treatment where the body is encouraged to work smoothly as one.

Something to remember

Whoever you see, you should always be asked to provide a full history of injuries and any serious illnesses, and you should be given an assessment, which will likely involve movement and manipulation. You should also be given information on what you can do outside of treatment to help yourself.

Remember, though, that prevention is the best cure. Building exercise gradually is always the safest option, both in terms of duration/distance and intensity. It’s also worth getting any biomechanical (the way the body moves) issues looked at early on so that you can follow exercises to correct them and be aware of things that may flare up in the future.

Personally, I recommend regular sports massage for anyone who is serious about their training.

Have you seen any, or all, of these different injury specialists? What was your experience? Which type of specialist do you find is most helpful?

This post was written for ML Chiropractic, based in Fulham, who offer a holistic approach to health, specialising in exercise injuries.

Photo – getting ready to start post-race massage at the London Marathon.

4 Comments

  1. 27th March 2015 / 10:25 pm

    Good summary. I didn’t realise sports therapists were like physio therapists

    • 27th March 2015 / 10:47 pm

      Thanks! It’s not a protected title like physiotherapy is, so technically anyone could call themselves one, but there are official sports therapy degrees that cover a lot of physiotherapy techniques.

      • 28th March 2015 / 10:47 am

        That’s always important to know. I use physiotherapists for that reason. I know they have rigorous training and certification. so I know they have minimum standards and best practices they must maintain.

        I want to know more about chiropractors and osteopaths but the need hasn’t arisen

        • 28th March 2015 / 10:51 am

          Yeah, I think for an injury in the first instance I’d always go to a physiotherapist. But for general maintenance and prevention I’d probably use a sports therapist. I’ve never seen an osteo or chiropractor either – I tend to think of them more for back issues, though obviously they deal with more than that.

What do you think?