When to Treat at Home - When to See a Doctor

Your youngster has just been injured on the soccer field. Should you take the child to the doctor, or can you treat the injury at home?

That’s not always an easy call to make, according to Dr. Rey Bosita, a spine surgeon on the Medical Staff of Texas Health Center for Diagnostics & Surgery and in private practice with the Texas Back Institute.

Often parents take their children, especially young ones, to the doctor when it’s not really needed. But Dr. Bosita, father of four boys (three of whom are soccer players) totally understands.

“You can’t fault parents for wanting to make sure their kids are OK,” he said. “It’s always better to err on the side of caution.”

But the most common soccer injuries -- bruises and sprains involving the knees and ankles -- typically don’t require medical attention.

“Even if it hurts, if the player can bear weight and walk more or less normally, then the injury likely can be managed at home,” Dr. Bosita said.

For home care of sprains and strains, remember the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression (such as an Ace bandage) and elevation. “Keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart,” he said.

Unless it persists for more than a few days, a swollen ankle is usually a sign of a sprain which can be treated at home. But with a swollen knee, always see the doctor.

“A swollen knee can indicate a serious injury, such as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, which requires medical attention,” Dr. Bosita said. “And with knee injuries, it’s better to get the doctor involved sooner, rather than later.”

ACL tears, by the way, rank among the most serious soccer-related injuries, and usually require surgery. They tend to affect female players more often than males.

“Women and girls have a higher predisposition, regardless of age,” Dr. Bosita said.

Soccer players can also sustain head injuries, either while “heading” the ball, or colliding with other players. If there’s any chance of a concussion, Dr. Bosita advises, get medical attention.

“If the patient has headaches, balance issues, or is otherwise not bouncing back quickly, see the doctor,” he said.

A few more words to the wise: train regularly between games, with both cardio exercise as well as thorough stretching. And warm up before the game, even if you’re not playing.

One of the worst soccer injuries Dr. Bosita has treated involved an adult coach who’d neglected his warm-up.

“He tore his Achilles while running up and down the field and required surgery the following week,” Dr. Bosita said. “Even coaches need to warm up.”

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