I’m often asked when an athlete should see a doctor or go to an orthopaedic surgeon after an injury. Is 24 hours after injury too soon? Is one week or six weeks a better timeframe?

Instead of suggesting an arbitrary amount of time after an injury that might indicate it’s serious, allow me to propose a different approach.

If you cannot perform your sport or physical activity as well as you would like to because of pain or other symptoms, you should go to the doctor.

Should a runner with pain see a doctor?

Obviously if you can’t play at all, seeing a sports medicine doctor or orthopaedic surgeon is an easy decision. Those of you who can play or exercise but are limited by your injury should see a doctor as well.

For example, a 40-year-old female runner might have no trouble on flat surfaces, but she feels a dull pain in the front of both knees when climbing and descending hills. Her pain keeps her from running races.

A high school baseball pitcher might experience clicking deep in his shoulder with off-speed pitches. He can pitch through the discomfort, but he notices a loss of velocity and difficulty locating his pitches.

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Both of them should consider having their injuries evaluated even though they can still play and exercise.

You might resist going to an orthopaedic surgeon out of fear of being shut down or finding out you need surgery. However, most of the time we can suggest activity modification, physical therapy or another nonoperative option to get you pain-free and back to sports. Often, these changes can eliminate the underlying problem before you develop a much more serious injury.