Readers Roundtable: Doctors, Chiropractors, Therapists & Running Injuries

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Running injuries suck. But what can make them suck even more is trying to find the right healthcare provider to treat an injury. It’s hard to know which kind of practitioner to see and then, as we’ll all likely discover through the years, not all doctors, chiropractors, or therapists are created equal. Sometimes a medical professional understands you, identifies the injury, and gives you a realistic recovery plan.

Sometimes, a medical professional just doesn’t get it or worse, really doesn’t get it but keeps you coming back for treatment after treatment with no real fix or end in sight.

So, whether awesome or awful, we want to hear about your experiences with medical professionals.

Has a medical professional every worked a miracle on your running injury?

Have you ever been frustrated with a medical professional’s approach to you and your injury?

Do you have any tips for finding a great medical professional?

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Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life. Currently recovering from my third pregnancy, heart surgery, diastasis recti, low iron/vitamin D, sciatic nerve impingement, overtraining, mono. What can I say? I'm stubborn.

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25 comments

  1. Oh, man. I’ve had both terrible and excellent experiences! Background: I had two torn hip labrums that went undiagnosed for several years.
    First, I went to a chiropractor. This guy straight up tried to scam both my insurance and myself, billing for procedures as “three units” when he could not define a “unit” (he never billed, for example, one unit of joint manipulation) or for items never provided ($15 for ice every appointment, when he never applied ice ever). Upon confrontation, his office manager quickly adjusted the bill and never called me again. He also made my condition worse, and didn’t seem to even understand what he purported to be treating.
    Next, after my regular sports medicine guy told me that I wasn’t injured…his words were, “You need a coach, not a doctor”…I sought a second medical opinion. This doctor dismissed me as a hypochondriac, refusing even to read my PT notes, and shouted at me, “I will not be BULLIED into a diagnosis!” Meanwhile, I was unable to run or even walk without pain. Note to doctors: runners LOVE to run. If I am not running, something is actually wrong!
    Finally, the pain progressed to the point that I required crutches to even walk, and a PT in the hospital where I work recommended I see a hip specialist. He knew what was wrong before the MRI came back – labral tear. This doctor did both my hip surgeries, and did an excellent job! He did all the little things – PRP in the joint space during surgery, modification of procedure to repair instead of debride, customized recovery around my work. He moved away, sadly, but otherwise he’d still be my doc! I actually send him a thank you note after I returned to marathons after the surgeries. Couldn’t have done it without him!

  2. The American Physical Therapy Association has a tool on their website to help you find someone who is a board certified specialist in sports physical therapy. Certified specialists have a minimum number of years of experience and have studied for a passed a rigorous test specific to Sports physical therapy. Search for a great PT in your area at http://Www.apta.org/findapt and look for someone with “SCS” credentials after their name.

  3. I broke my right fifth metatarsal getting out of a recliner on the morning of December 10. Not riding my bicycle, trail running (~12-15 minute pace), road running (~10-12 minute pace), hiking, on a yoga retreat, or doing any of the other things that I do.

    After 8 weeks of no weight (one week on crutches and 7 on a knee walker) and 3 weeks in a walking boot, my doctor said I was fine. Nah, you won’t need therapy, no one does after being in a boot. Just go slow. Sure, you can do yoga, or spin. Wear supportive shoes and go slow.

    My right calf is an inch smaller than my left and has no muscle tone. My right thigh is also an inch smaller, and I’ve gained some weight (less than 10 lbs). The first week I tried yoga and it was really hard, I was terribly off balance, and some things just didn’t work. I also tried spin, and found that if I really focused and took breaks I can do it, and I can do it pretty well.

    But I don’t feel right and I don’t know where to turn — I can’t just jump into strength class. Can I even literally jump? Can I squat? How do I get balanced?

    I found a chiropractor on a friend’s recommendation, and he has:
    – Taken X-rays that show my spine is at an angle, my pelvis is uneven, and my pelvis is tilted inwards a bit on one side.
    – Given me a 3-4 month window where he thinks I’ll be better than ever.
    – Given me stretches/exercises and direction on how often/what to do/what not to do
    – Told me I can’t run until my legs are the same size, because it will just exacerbate the issue
    – Told me that if I’m spinning/biking I need to be VERY aware and not let my left leg do all the work

    We’ve got phases of our plan, and I’m hopeful that it will be good. He has balance balls, steps, resistance bands in his office and I do believe that he has a holistic approach. Fingers crossed!

    1. That is so frustrating! And how would you know that that was bad advice until it’s way too late. UGH. Hopefully your new plan has you up and running soon!

    2. I too have a chiropractor that encourages PT, massage, heat/ice, and slow recovery. She keeps telling me which muscles are weak and need help: do this exercise to strengthen that muscle, and it will help the ribs/spine/adjustments stick where they should be. She’s also regularly told me that her goal with every patient is for them not to eventually not need her. I’ve been seeing her for over 10 years for various issues. Rather than scheduling out regular appointments or telling me come back in x weeks, she just tells me to call when I need to come in. She and I both trust that I listen to my body enough to know when I need to see her.

      My podiatrist has the same approach – do as little as necessary to relieve the issue. I have bunions on both feet (hereditary), flat feet, and weak ankles as a result of both those things. We tweak treatment occasionally, replace my orthotic insoles, add topical pain creams, etc. Our mutual goal is to keep me out of pain and to delay surgery on the bunions as long as possible. So far, so good.

      All that said, I think you need to find a doc that will work WITH you and not mess things up (i.e., do as little intervention as necessary at first, and escalate as needed). If they don’t listen to you, then get another opinion. You are a person, not a condition or diagnosis!!!! I also prioritize eye contact when they talk to me and how much time they are willing to spend assessing my body/X-rays/etc. before a diagnosis.

      I’ve had success with asking friends for recommendations and with calling our local hospital for referrals. My GP office also knows all the docs in our town, so they can recommend good specialists.

  4. I have a team that I’ve developed over the years since my big injury in 2010. It’s a massage therapist; a sports chiropractor who also does dry needling, ART, etc.; and a physical therapist. All are runners, which I think helps them understand my background and motivations. I see my massage therapist usually every 3 weeks, scheduling depending. I think of that one as changing the oil in my car. The sports chiro is my go-to because he can identify and treat so many things. I think dry needling is some sort of wonderful witchcraft; he’ll also adjust my hips and kinseo-tape, etc. Also, to Ellie’s point โ€” he doesn’t bill insurance. I see him for a $50 returning patient fee. That’s part of why I go to him more than my PT, who is in the opposite direction of work and home, and even with insurance I usually get a bill for at least $150 each time I go.

    1. I used to see an ART guy right by my house who took my insurance so I only had to pay a co-pay and I could get a same day appt – it was awesome! But then he sold his practice to a big hospital conglomerate and now even with insurance it’s more expensive to see him than to pay out of pocket for the best guy in town and it takes weeks to get an appointment. FORGET it.

  5. A few years ago I was preparing to run my first Boston. Training was going pretty well and I was racing strong throughout the winter in a local series, my only blip was that my shin/calf gave me issues at times. I tried all the home remedies, extra stretching, compression, ice, rolling, heat…you name it- but never went to see a doctor. Boston was the only thing good I had going at the moment and I think deep down I feared what they would say and take that away from me. I managed to keep it from turning into full blown injury but also knew I didn’t want to run Boston that way. I reached out to fellow runners and did a lot of online research about local Massage Therapists who specialize in injuries. I found Debbie, who I ended up seeing 3 times in the weeks leading up to Boston and without her there is no way I would have been able to run. She was my miracle worker- and still my on call LMT for before every marathon or big race. BUT I did also realize that I shouldn’t have tried to outrun that shin/calf problem and that I got lucky it didn’t turn into full blown injury. I’m now much more cautious and aware of backing off when I need to, or seeking help/advice instead of thinking I can handle everything.

    I think the tough balance can be finding a professional (doctor, LMT, PT. whatever) who knows what they’re doing and will work with you but also gives you the confidence to work with them. I know there are frustrating docs out there, ones who aren’t as well knowing as they seem and are not helping. But at the same time- I have seen runners walk away from a doctor or professional simply because they didn’t like what they had to say. As much as the “run less” or “stop running” things are annoying- it can be a time to speak up and say well what can I do to work with it? Because there are times runners actually should stop or slow down to let something heal and they don’t and then go on to bash the doctor for not helping. As runners we know our bodies but doesn’t mean we are always honest with ourselves about what we need.

    1. If a doc says to “stop running and take ibuprofen three times a day” for a soft tissue injury, smile and walk out of the office.

  6. I am sort of fortunate that my running mentor is also an OT, so he is usually good for on the spot injury management and protection. I actually don’t think I have ever gone to the doctor for an injury, I just take off till it feels better. I want to get better at seeing doctors, but don’t have many options.

    Tonight can’t we discuss options for those without insurance? What do people do for this?

    1. I think that’s a great topic and hope we do talk about it as well. I know some states/insurance plans don’t even cover these types of services. There are a good number of self massage tools out there (https://www.amazon.com/HEARTCANFEEL-Scraping-Massage-Smooth-Buffalo/dp/B00J954WG0/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1490022234&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=self+graston – Thanks, Poppy!) and for a long term investment that helps curb massage therapy costs, I would recommend Normatec. It’s a big up front cost but no different than a bike used to cross train. Then for just general maintenance, a foam roller and stretch band go a long way.

    2. This is a great topic. The thing to understand is that seeing a medical professional may just be an expensive aggravation rather than a certain fix to what ails you. It takes experience to figure it all out, which is hard to get when it’s all too cost prohibitive! One thing I’ll say, is that in the last 10 years I generally pay a flat rate out of pocket for ART, etc. and most good practitioners know that most serious athletes don’t have the money or the time to get in over and over, so they’ll help you minimize your need to come back by giving you PT exercises or home treatment you can do. But yes, we’ll discuss this tonight too :) Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. I think I’ve seen every stereotypically bad health practitioner. The PCP who acts like I’m a lunatic for running so much. The ART guy that spends 5 minutes dealing with your sore spot and then sending you on your way only to return again and again because he never took the time to figure out the underlying problem. The orthopedist who, so used to seeing high school kids, never thought to check my abs when I was experiencing back pain even though I brought all my young kids/babies to my appointments. The doctors who sent me in for a gazillion tests that end up turning up nothing but lots of bills. Ugh. In a perfect world, I’d interview all running healthcare professionals before an injury, but even then it’s hard to know the possibilities and what to look for. But as Poppy said, finding someone who’s an athlete is an easy way to increase the odds someone is good, but it’s still not a surefire way either. Would love others’ ideas on this!

    1. I think many times, athletes don’t see a doctor or a specialist until they are getting pain from a secondary injury. So, the specialist ends of treating the secondary injury (like plantar fasciitis) without getting to the root of the problem of where the secondary injury stems from. In my own experience, I have learned that it is such a delicate balance of support and alignment. The core, the pelvic muscles, the glute muscles – all have to work together as a sort of symphony in forward motion. So, I am always maintaining that with the work I was given when I had my pelvic fracture.

  8. I have had numerous injuries over the years and as a result have seen many different types of practitioners. My experience with all of that was actually a large part of the reason I got into doing massage therapy. I think that my best experiences with any one doctor or therapist has always been when I’ve seen someone who is either a runner (or athlete) themselves or has at least worked on many runners/athletes over the years. Those doctors and therapists get where you are coming from and tend to treat you differently than a practitioner who has never worked on a runner. Whenever I’ve had to look for someone new to treat me (when I’ve moved to a new area), I always try to do my research on the doctors and therapists in the area and will look for word-of-mouth referrals from other runners/athletes.

    I have had some pretty terrible experiences as well and most have been with orthopedic specialists (sorry to generalize). I have been blown off by more than one before and have felt like I’ve wasted my time and money by going to see them. My hubs and other runner friends have had similar experiences with this area of sports medicine as well.

    1. I think like any other medical profession where you are going to see someone a lot in a shorter amount of time, a level of trust is important. I found my sports chiropractor through word of mouth, but I also wanted someone who wouldn’t feed me a line of bull and treat me like another patient on his or her assembly line of clients for the day. I wanted to see someone who is an athlete themselves, so they have a grasp over the mental part of being injured. Through my own positive experience, and in speaking with others who have not had a good experience or have not gotten any better – I think whoever you see needs to give you some sort of plan of recovery that you can work at while you are at home and not just in the office. For each of my two injuries that I saw my sports chiropractor for, each time he gave me “homework” of some sort of strengthening exercise, stretching, thera band work, etc. There is a reason why the person I see has at least a two week wait list to get in to an appointment.

      1. Yes, I think seeing someone who helps you see the big picture is key. I always appreciate homework from docs/therapists. I still now do a lot of the exercises to focus on my weaknesses that were given to me years ago. I think that’s something runners need to keep in mind when they see someone – you aren’t always going to get a quick fix when you go to your appointment. It usually is a combo of treatment from the medical professional and doing your part at home, be it rest or strengthening imbalances or stretching or a combo of all.

        1. + 3 on finding someone who helps you see the bigger picture- it shouldn’t always be just about the short term. I love my sports Chiro because he really lays out a long term plan (with short term goals as well), and homework for me.

      2. Fennel – I think I know who this is…. :) – maybe. If it is, I go there, too and totally agree! I’ve had a healthy few years under this practice in part because of the homework.

    2. I once had a massage (in front of a bunch of other runners) and it was the most amazing work I’ve ever had done! This therapist had the magic touch and they also happened to be a runner. I only wish I lived closer because I would be going to her at least monthly. Wink wink ;)

          1. When your kids are all grown up, you need an RV to have a traveling massage studio. Or you can just move next to me. Either way :)