“I’ve tried massage and strength work, but my IT Band still flares up when I ride.”
“So my knee hurts all the time, even when I push off the wall during my swim …”
“I fainted after my long run today. Why did that happen?”
Log into Twitter, Facebook, or endurance forums, and you’ll find these questions by the dozen. Rather than waiting for doctors to hand down a diagnosis, injured athletes have taken to the Internet at an increasing rate, using crowdsourcing to get answers before (or instead of) making an appointment with a medical professional.
The phenomenon manifests itself in many ways, from posting a list of symptoms for analysis on Facebook to asking for advice on running and triathlon forums.
Some entrepreneurial minds have tapped into this medical mindset. CrowdMed launched in April 2013 in hopes of becoming a central meeting place for users to crowdsource the analysis of symptoms. After compiling a list of potential conditions, users vote on the most likely diagnosis given the symptoms listed. Once the crowd has contributed, patients are given a list of possible findings to review with a medical professional.
Though the democratic process of diagnosis is a relatively recent phenomenon, using the Internet to research medical information is not a new idea. Thirty-five percent of adults have used the Internet specifically for the purpose of self-diagnosis; most use a search engine, like Google, instead of a specific health site.
This do-it-yourself approach can lead to an overabundance of conflicting information, confusing even the most well-read consumer. Though the Internet can be a great place to read the latest research, it also brings health crazes and scares. Selecting an inaccurate or unproven treatment course may set an injured athlete back even more.
“By self-diagnosing, the athlete may be jeopardizing their health,” says Dr. Aixa Alvarez, an MD specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation at NIX Specialty Health Center in San Antonio, Texas. “Many athletic or ‘overuse’ injuries, which a large percentage of triathletes experience at least once, can be easily remedied with a proper diagnosis and proper treatment. The longer you wait to see a physician the more damage you may be causing, and in the long run, the longer the recovery time.”
The best way to get answers is by visiting a medical professional, says Alvarez. A doctor can physically examine the injury and order appropriate tests to help with diagnosis, as well as know which questions to ask in order to pinpoint an injury. A physician can also start the healing process with appropriate medications or a referral for physical or occupational therapy.
That’s not to say an athlete’s research is moot. Even Alvarez, an Ironman triathlete, asked her training partners about her own injury symptoms before visiting a medical professional for confirmation. Patients shouldn’t be shy to share their research with their doctor. In fact, 41 percent of online diagnoses brought to a doctor are confirmed, versus 18 percent disputed.
“Sometimes it can be very helpful because the patients are very in tune to their symptoms and are able to provide a better history,” says Alvarez. “But even if you have a proper diagnosis, you need to know how to heal that injury. Together, you and your doctor can make a plan for rehabilitation of your injury which will allow you to return to training ASAP.”