Too many people equate medical doctors with auto mechanics. When their cars do not work right or they hear unfamiliar noises, they take their vehicles to mechanics, sit in the waiting room while the mechanics work, briefly meet with the mechanic, drive home, and do not think about the problem again.

That arrangement works well for the machine in your garage, but not for your body. First of all, while using the Internet for self-diagnosis purposes is probably a bad idea, most people should have some notion of their general health condition before they go to the doctor, especially for a fitness, sports, or other injury. More importantly, while the doctor is essential to put the healing process in motion, the doctor is not a healer. For the most part, that’s your job.

Joint Injuries

To support a full range of motion, shoulders, knees, elbows, and other joints are essentially ball-and-socket mechanisms that are rather easily injured by almost any trauma. So, doctors are well-versed in dealing with these situations, and the patients should be prepared for them as well.

Shoulder dislocations are a good example. If your shoulder hurts really, really badly, is basically immobile, and feels out of whack, your shoulder is probably dislocated. Contrary to the implications on movies and TV shows, one cannot simply “pop” a dislocated shoulder joint back into place. Although that’s essentially the idea, the procedure is much more nuanced and requires immediate medical attention.

As for the aftercare, however, many doctors will prescribe pain pills and rest. While this combination will work eventually, main prescription pain relievers are highly addictive and most of us do not have the luxury of complete rest. So, a good shoulder brace for dislocation is usually a better option. Many of the better ones have built-in analgesic pain relief features, so instead of an Oxycontin, an Advil may do the trick.

Muscle Injuries

These injuries almost always heal themselves, even if they are rather major muscle injuries, but you still need to see a doctor, or at least an athletic trainer, to properly diagnose the injury. There’s a very big difference between a Grade 1 groin pull and a Grade 3 pull, although in terms of discomfort, they might feel about the same.

The diagnostic visit should occur within a few hours, if at all possible, because the recovery phase is arguably the important part. In most cases, the R.I.C.E. approach is best.

    • Rest: Complete rest is usually in order, but if you must move around, and most of us do, use crutches or something else which ensures that the injured muscle isn’t used.

    • Ice: Opinions go back and forth on this issue, but at the end of the day, it is hard to beat twenty minutes of an ice pack as both an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic pain reliever.

    • Compression: An ACE bandage is a good way to reduce swelling, and because it is customized for that body part, a compression wrap is even better. Compression therapy also supports the area until the muscle heals.

    • Elevation: To further minimize swelling and inflammation, keep the injured area elevated above your heart for as much time as possible.

Some pundits add a “P” for pain reliever, but use caution when taking opioid pain pills, because on top of addiction, they can mask pain to the extent that you have a false sense of recovery.

Your body is yours and not your doctor’s, so treat it as such.