When to See the Doctor About Sports Injuries

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Uh-oh. Your child was playing soccer and hurt his ankle. It’s starting to bruise and you aren’t sure if your child’s ankle is sprained or possibly even broken. Or, did you fall down during volleyball and hit your head and you’re feeling a little hazy? Could it be a concussion?

Sports injuries are common and some can be cared for at home, but there are some that require the attention of a medical professional. It’s with these injuries when you ask yourself, do I need to visit my doctor or is it serious enough to go to the emergency room?


Sprained Ankles

A sprained ankle is one of the most common sports injuries. Approximately 25,000 people sprain their ankle each day in the United States. A sprain happens when the foot rolls or turns beyond its normal range of motion. This injury can occur while taking part in sports or simply by stepping on an uneven surface. However, do you know when you need to make a doctor’s appointment, visit urgent care or go to the emergency room when you sprain an ankle?

  • Make an appointment with your primary care provider if: there is pain and swelling in the ankle but you are able to walk and you believe there is the possibility that it is a sprain. 
  • Go to urgent/express care if: you are experiencing significant pain and swelling and it is difficult to bear weight or walk without assistance.
  • Go to the emergency room if: there is immediate bruising on the foot, significant deformity, or you are unable to walk or put any pressure on the affected ankle as it could be a fracture or broken bone.


A concussion is more than just a bump on the head. It is a brain injury that alters the way the brain functions and can be traumatic. While most concussions are mild, it is important to understand that a concussion is head trauma and improper treatment can be dangerous and lead to further injury and disability. Concussions are common in contact sports like football, soccer, lacrosse and rugby but may occur at work or any time. Symptoms can include headache, light/sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, trouble concentrating and/or remembering things, emotional lability, trouble balancing or walking as well as difficulty sleeping. Recovery times vary, but some concussions can take months to heal. What kind of medical attention should a person seek if they believe they have a concussion?

  • Make an appointment with your primary care provider if: you or a family member has sustained a head injury and symptoms are relatively mild. Make the appointment within 1 to 2 days of the occurrence. 
  • Go to urgent/express care if: you have suffered a head injury and are experiencing moderate but stable symptoms of a concussion, such as a headache or trouble with balance.
  • Go to the emergency room if: an adult or child who receives a concussion displays symptoms such as loss of consciousness lasting longer than 30 seconds, repeated vomiting, changes in behavior or disorientation, or progressively worsening headache.

Knee Injuries

In 2010, approximately 10.4 million doctor’s office visits were because of common knee injuries. In fact, knee injuries are one of the most common reasons people visit their primary care providers. Knee injuries range from fractures, dislocation, ACL injuries and muscle tears. Certain knee injuries can be treated with rehabilitation, while others may require surgery. Signs of a knee injury are swelling, the knee locking up or the feeling that the knee is about to give out. Do you know when to call the doctor for a knee injury?

  • Make an appointment with your primary care provider if: you’ve been experiencing minor knee pain and it is interfering with your day-to-day activities.
  • Go to urgent/express care if: the pain and/or swelling is severe and you are having trouble walking without assistance.
  • Go to the emergency room if: you feel severe pain, the knee is immobile, appears deformed or you are experiencing significant instability following the injury.

Pulled Hamstring

An injury to the hamstring - a group of three muscles in the back of the thigh - happens when one of the three muscles is strained or pulled. There are three different levels of hamstring injuries: mild muscle strain or pull, partial muscle tear and complete muscle tear. Athletes who play sports that require sprinting or sudden stops like soccer, tennis, or basketball, are more likely to get an injury to their hamstring. An injury to the hamstring is not a quick fix. This type of injury can take quite a bit of time to heal. Do you need to make a trip to the emergency room for a pulled hamstring?

  • Make an appointment with your primary care provider if: you experience heavy bruising or discoloration on the back of your leg, swelling or tenderness.
  • Go to urgent/express care if: you are unable to walk several steps without significant pain or require assistance to walk.
  • Go to the emergency room if: you are unable to put any weight on the injured leg or are unable to bend the knee without significant pain and weakness.

Shoulder Injuries

The shoulder is composed of three different bones: the clavicle, scapula and humerus. Injuries to this area can happen easily because the shoulder can be unstable. Shoulder injuries include dislocations, strains and sprains, torn rotator cuffs and fractures. Most injuries in the shoulder happen to muscles, tendons and ligaments. Participants in sports like tennis, softball or baseball, swimming and volleyball often experience shoulder injuries because of repeated overhead movements. Warning signs of an injury are pain, weakness, stiffness, popping and clicking sensations or movement in and out of the socket. When is it time to go to the emergency room or urgent care for a shoulder injury?

  • Make an appointment with your primary care provider if: your shoulder feels stiff and painful and it is difficult to lift or perform daily activities. 
  • Go to urgent/express care if: your shoulder is swelling and there is redness around the shoulder. The shoulder may be inflamed around the joint or have an infection. 
  • Go to the emergency room if: the upper part of your arm has become swollen or misshapen. The shoulder may be fractured or dislocated.

A doctor may recommend the RICE method to any of the above listed injuries. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation.

UnityPoint Clinic Can Help You With All Your Sports Injury Needs

Whether it is sending a message to your primary care physician through MyUnityPoint or going to urgent/express care, Sports Medicine or emergency care for medical attention, UnityPoint Clinic is here for you and all of your needs.