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Sports Injury: Rest or Treatment?

Injuries happen. Whether we like it or not they occur even if we do everything in our power to decrease the odds through proper strength and conditioning, chronic workload, specificity, etc. they will strike most of us. When they do happen, should we seek treatment for every single injury? Are there times when rest really is the best option? These questions are asked all of the time by the baseball players I coach/treat and I hope I can shed some light with a few answers.

Is Rest Without Treatment Ever the Answer?

To determine if rest is the answer, we must be able to distinguish “hurt” from “injured.” “Hurt” is the physical or mental sensation of pain which may or may not be a result of an injury. Some examples of “hurt” are a bruise from falling down or getting hit by a fastball and generally means that playing through the pain will not cause more damage to the tissue. “Injured” refers to tissue or musculoskeletal damage (for sports) that will result in further damage with stress placed upon that tissue. Examples of an “injury” include muscle strains, ankle sprains, broken bones, etc. Playing through an “injury” will cause irreparable harm in most cases, but rest without treatment will also cause further damage to injuries and a longer recovery period with a possible decrease in performance due to altered mobility, stability, and coordination. So when can we rest without treatment? When we are “hurt.” A bruise needs time to heal and there isn’t much a therapist/doctor can do about that.

What Are Treatment Options for Sports Injuries?

Most athletes and parents are unaware that there are many different options for sports injuries other than their primary care provider. Unfortunately, many (but definitely not all) PCPs will suggest rest and ibuprofen for common sports injuries such as strains and sprains, shoulder pain, elbow pain, etc. However, if players want to return to their sport quickly and safely they should seek out other options. For cases that do not require surgical intervention, finding a sports chiropractor, sports physical therapist, or athletic trainer who understands the demands of your sport will be able to help you much more than rest and ibuprofen will. Oftentimes, these providers will also be able to find the source of why you got injured in the first place and fix the cause of the problem to reduce the chance of re-injury. This is why it is so important to find a sports-specific provider because they have the tools to treat you with specific soft tissue techniques, mobility/stability exercise, and joint manipulation (DCs and PTs) that fit the needs of the individual athlete and will know when to use and not use each of those tools.


If you are hurt, try to rest first and if the problem does not get better after a few days then you are most likely injured and should seek care. If you know you have an injury, seek treatment quickly to reduce the recovery time from a sports-specific provider.

Dr. Ryan Hamilton is a sports chiropractor at Hamilton Chiropractic in San Mateo, CA and is also the head varsity baseball coach at Carlmont High School.


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