Injuries: See a Doctor or Tough It Out?
New York Times, Published by Gina Kolata
In a recent article published in the New York Times, author Gina Kolata makes firm arguments as to why individuals should avoid going to see the doctor for your sport and exercise woes. She states that aches and pains due to exercise are common, and should be toughed out or ignored unless the problem becomes more severe or does not go away after terminating the activity. Her reasons? First, Kolata states that the co-pays often associated with going to the doctor are a literal way of adding insult to injury. Second, Doctors do not often know how to cure the aches and pains. And third, she states that "Sometimes going to a doctor for a diagnostic workup can be precarious, with scans that can show all sorts of apparent abnormalities and injuries that are not causing any problems." (Kolata, p.1, 2010).
Her second point of argument is one that I would like to discuss. In her article she provides evidence from a doctor that she interviewed. Dr. Thompson argues that he himself experienced foot pain, and instead of continuing to work through the pain after 4 years, he consulted an orthopedist. After a round of cortisone injections and shoe inserts, the problem did not subside. But after consulting a fellow friend that works as a podiatrist for the Celtics basketball team, he was told that taping his foot would be a better solution. Since the day he began taping, the problem vanished. When he stops taping, the problem resurfaces. Although this is good supporting evidence for her argument, for anyone that has taken an athletic injuries class, the evidence is feeble. Personally, even I knew that taping is an effective way to ease the pain of plantar fascitis. What this shows is that no matter whom you go to see for your problems, you as the patient need to be aware of current treatment and prevention techniques. Do your research; don't blame the doctor for not knowing exactly how to fix your problem, they might not be familiar with the condition. Take your aches and pains upon yourself and surf the web prior to getting it checked out by a doctor, that way if you do end up spending the co-pay, you will have made your visit worthwhile.
Kolata's third argument for avoiding the clinic comes from issues with MRI's and the pitfalls of the advancements of technology. A study by Dr. Matthew Silvis was conducted on 42 male hockey players, 21 professional and 21 college athletes. The study provided insightful evidence that showed that although none of the players claimed to have any clinical symptoms or showed any level of pain, 70% of the MRI's exposed ligament and or cartilaginous abnormalities. This research does beg the question, how much can we rely on an MRI for a diagnosis? But it also points out that the issues never would have been noticed without the MRI. The best answer to solve this problem comes from simply being a good doctor. Don't rely on the MRI, but also use your clinical knowledge and the evaluation to come to a strong diagnosis. As for the study, the results were disturbing, but as an athlete myself, I was not surprised. Personally, after doing gymnastics for 17 years, I know that there were a slew of things wrong with my body during competition season. Did I ever get MRI's to find that out? The answer is no. As an athlete, you learn to tolerate a certain level of pain and your body and brain adjusts to this pain, meaning that when you should actually be hurting, you are conditioned to think that you feel fine. I would be pleased to see this study conducted on individuals without serious athletic careers. Although athletes are usually deemed more "in tune" with their bodies, they also tend to ignore or write off pain. The conclusion to this argument is that a condition that might not feel serious to a professional hockey player, might seriously affect an individual with a "blue collar" career.
So what's the take home point? Nobody makes the decision but you. If you are experiencing pain that you haven't felt before, if it's severe, if you're worried about, or if you don't want to endure any more discomfort, see a doctor. They might not give you a solution, but it is their job to try. Is this outcome frustrating to you? Remember that even though it's their job, it's your body. Do some research on your own first. It can't hurt to come to the appointment prepared, and your chances for a logical diagnosis and solution could be much greater.