Your lower back pain comes and goes, or your wrist only aches if you spend more time than usual at your computer. You manage fine day-to-day, but feel these twinges every once in a while. You might be wondering if you should make an appointment to get your problem evaluated. When it comes to the health of your musculoskeletal system, it is better to be seen sooner, rather than later, by a board-certified Orthopaedic Specialist.
Orthopaedic physicians specialize in caring for the musculoskeletal system, which is a complex system of bones, cartilage, ligaments, and the connective tissue that stabilizes and connects the bones. The bones work together with the muscles to produce controlled movement. We would not be able to sit, walk, or stand without the skeleton, because the muscle fibers would not have anything to pull against. Healthy bones are a critical component to keeping the entire body moving as it should. Over time, all parts of our bodies begin to wear down and we become more prone to injury. We all need to listen to our bodies and actually hear what it is saying to us. Most often, if something needs attention, your body will tell you!
Usually, the musculoskeletal system does an excellent job of healing itself; however, there are a number of conditions that require medical intervention for recovery to occur, some of which require more immediate attention. Many patients suffer with these conditions far too long before going to the doctor. Unfortunately, by the time they get in to see me, some conditions have deteriorated past the point of conservative treatment and require more invasive measures to fix.
If you suffer with a condition such as lower back pain, knee, hip, or shoulder pain, and come to see us before you reach a state of constant pain and discomfort, there may be several options available to you. We may recommend physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, cortisone injections, or specific exercises to improve strength and/or flexibility. Taking control and being pro-active about understanding your condition will allow you to continue to participate in the activities you love, whether that’s golf, tennis, walking, or playing on the floor with your kids or grandkids.
It is very rare that surgery is an immediate recommendation for anyone, because we believe in exhausting the aforementioned conservative options first. But if you are considering surgery in the future, we do offer many minimally-invasive surgery options for a wide range of conditions, including partial and total knee replacements, hip replacements, rotator cuff surgery, shoulder replacements, carpal tunnel syndrome surgery, and more. These options have shorter recovery times and reduced risk of complications. We almost always encourage the minimally-invasive procedure as long as the patient is an appropriate candidate.
Below is a list of common symptoms and issues, some of which require more immediate attention than others:
General Knee or Hip Pain – If your knee or hip bothers you after a long day of golf or shopping every once in a while, you may not need to see a doctor. When the pain begins to challenge you and force you to miss out on activities you enjoy, please make an appointment. You may have arthritis and could benefit from physical therapy or a cortisone injection. Another common solution would be to lose weight. Are you carrying around some extra pounds? Extra weight increases the burden that we place on our joints, causing them to become inflamed and irritated.
Lower Back Pain – Lower back pain is the second most common reason for missed work in the United States. Most often it is due to muscle strain and will feel better in a few days. If you have recurrent or debilitating issues, I recommend you see a doctor. You may need physical therapy to better understand what exercises will help you avoid recurrent pain. Or you may have a more serious issue with your cervical (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back) that could improve with some type of intervention.
Torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) – This is most often caused by traumatic injury, such as occurs while playing sports, such as football or soccer. Most of the time, people are fully aware when they tear their ACL – it presents as knee pain, swelling, weakness, and inability to walk. If you ignore this problem, it will not improve. I recommend you see a doctor so you can learn what your options are. Not every ACL tear will require surgery, but it is best that you know exactly what is going on so you can make an informed treatment decision with your orthopaedic physician.
Nerve Discomfort/Tingling – Do you experience nerve pain or tingling in your arms, hands, legs or feet? This could be caused by a wide range of issues, either impacting local nerves or more seriously, nerves that are being compressed in the spine. If nerve damage becomes too extensive, it is irreversible and we may not be able to do anything to alleviate your discomfort. Please see a doctor if you are regularly experiencing pain, tingling, or discomfort in your extremities. Of even greater concern would be weakness or loss of function in a limb. You do not want to ignore this problem.
Wrist Pain/Discomfort – Do you think you may have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)? All studies show that once you get CTS, the symptoms may be managed, but nothing will reverse the condition or cure it, except for surgical intervention. CTS can permanently damage the medial nerve of the hand, causing irreparable damage, resulting in lifelong numbness. Most people choose to try and manage the symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medications, splints or bracing for the wrist and hand, or cortisone injections can all be used to manage the symptoms. Some people may manage their symptoms effectively with these options. The majority of patients will find, however, that their symptoms continue to worsen and they decide that they want to do something to permanently address the problem. That is when surgery is the next step. I recommend that you make an appointment early on to learn how to manage your symptoms. If you learn how to manage them, your symptoms may not worsen.
This article includes just a few of the most common orthopaedic issues that we face. Many people feel they do not need to see a doctor until their situation is dire, but by then, the damage may be done. At OSC, we will always begin treatment in the most conservative way appropriate for the severity of the problem. For some conditions, people wait too long to see us and therefore may not have the wide range of minimally-invasive options available to them. I strongly encourage you to seek medical advice if you are in doubt. A good rule of thumb is to see a doctor if you are hurting. Your body is trying to tell you something!
Robert J. Snyder, MD is a board-certified Orthopaedic Specialist with Orthopaedic and Spine Center in Newport News, Virginia. Named a “Top Doc” for 2012 and 2013 by a survey of Hampton Roads Physicians, Dr. Snyder’s practice is focused primarily on sports-related injuries and disorders, and on total and partial joint replacements of the hip and knee, including the Conformis knee replacement system. Call 757-596-1900 to make an appointment. Visit www.osc-ortho.com to learn more about OSC and Dr. Snyder.