Volleyball players getting injured is a matter of when, not if. So, when a player is told that he or she needs to see a doctor because of injury or illness, there can be a bit of fear:
- Fear that doctor will not appreciate the demands of volleyball.
- Fear that the player will be told simply “Just stop playing.”
- Fear that the player and/or family may not know the questions to ask to get the most out of the visit.
It’s OK to be anxious and fear is a normal feeling, but how can you work through some of these unknowns?
Here are a few tips that can help you prepare and get the most out of your visit.
Before your visit
Dress ready to move and don’t forget your volleyball stuff
When going to a medical facility don’t be afraid to dress in a way that allows you to move comfortably. It is extremely difficult to examine a player’s hips and knees if they’re wearing tight jeans. Wearing short sleeve shirt can help with the shoulder or elbow exam. Coming in athletic apparel (including shoes) will allow a more comfortable and complete physical examination. Bring any extra equipment (even those smelly ankle braces or knee pads) and a list of medications and supplements.
Don’t go at it alone
Bring a family member, friend, or other trusted individual to help take notes, ask questions, and digest the information shared at the visit. If no one can be with you in person, ask if you can use a video call or a speakerphone option to have someone share in the visit.
Have a list of your goals (not those of coaches, parents, or even volleyball teammates)
Bring a schedule of upcoming practices, competitions, and other events. Ideally you the player should decide which are the most realistic and important goals in your recovery journey. Don’t be afraid to speak up and let everyone in the room know your targets. If there is a game coming up soon (like this weekend), have a realistic discussion about the risks/benefits of performing and possibly worsening an injury or prolonging recovery. Yes, you want to be a good teammate, but your priority is your long-term health.
Ask genuine questions and express yourself
Share insights about what drives you and develop a truly collaborative relationship with your medical team. The more that they know about you, the more they can meet your unique needs. ASK questions to get your needs met and if you forget something (it happens all the time), see if you can send a follow-up message to the doctor.
Don’t be afraid to share some video
Be prepared to tell the doctor what movements and techniques cause the most pain. When I am told, “We have video, do you want to see it?” my response is always a big, “Yes!”
Many doctors may not understand or have a clue about volleyball positions and movements (honestly, how many non-volleyball people get the whole libero thing?). This is where your video can be quite important for a good teaching moment. While replaying an injury video (like the middle on the other team crossing under the net and getting your foot) may be painful to watch, seeing the actual mechanism of injury can be quite valuable in determining a treatment plan.
During your visit
Be a student of your own body
Try to be as accurate as possible when describing where you hurt, the type of pain or discomfort (sharp, burning, or stabbing) and what movements make discomfort better or worse. Using a fingertip can be quite helpful in identifying the location of pain. Also be aware of any swelling, numbness, tingling, or other abnormal sensations that should be shared. Don’t limit focus to just a single painful joint. Often knee pain may be triggered, in part, by limited hip or ankle motion.
So, if you are seeing the doctor for a knee injury but your hips are also hurting, speaking up and giving the full story may likely contribute to a fuller recovery. Often, our joints are related to each other so it may help your doctor to build a comprehensive picture of you and your situation. Don’t forget to mention any pain with weight training or jump training.
“Where do you want to take volleyball and where do you want volleyball to take you?”
On the same thought chain as defining your goals, an injury isn’t always negative; it can also be an opportunity for learning. Injuries can give additional perspectives on both short-term and long-term volleyball commitments. A thoughtfully designed recovery program can make a player stronger and more self-aware for the future. Many volleyball players will credit past injuries as important teaching points that have contributed to a more prolonged and healthier volleyball career.
Treat medical or therapy visits as an opportunity to grow by being an active participant, and asking, “What do I want to learn?” or “What connections did I make today?” to take away/apply for the future.
Ask “What can I do?” while healing from a volleyball injury
Most volleyball injuries do not require absolute removal from all activities, but rather individualized modifications. For example, a player with a lower leg stress injury might be able to do self-serving, passing without jumping, and working on their standing float serve (check with your medical team before doing anything with a stress injury). Off the court conditioning and weight training activities can be modified to involve only upper or lower body, use lying or seating positions, or even water-based non-impact activities.
Ask about telemedicine options
Many volleyball medicine providers will allow for telemedicine evaluations. These may not be ideal for an initial visit where face-to-face interaction is more helpful, but they can be useful for follow-up appointments. This may also allow the provider to watch you on the court to get a better idea of your current level of function.
After your visit
Continue to build your team
Building a team also includes asking what other professionals should be involved in your recovery. Ask for referrals to volleyball specialists for therapy/exercises and if comfortable, give permission for members of your team to speak with each other (and coaches) as needed.
Extend the conversation
If need be, inform your healthcare provider in between visits so they can stay in the know about how to best support you at that moment or perhaps during the next visit. Again, see if there is an email or other messaging system in place.
Injuries and illnesses can be frightening for volleyball players. Being more confident about expressing your concerns and needs. This can help can take away some of that fear and give you the most out of doctor visits to support your overall health and volleyball career.
Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. He is a team physician for USA Volleyball (including participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics), the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Network, Cal State Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics, and the Chapman University Volleyball Department. He offers a comprehensive blend of general pediatric and sport medicine care with an individualized approach to each patient and family. Please visit activekidmd.com or follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/activekidmd/), Instagram (@activekidmd/), or Twitter (@dockoutures).