Aches and pains are a normal part of life, especially as we age. So, how long should you grin and bear it before seeing an orthopedic surgeon?
Listening to your body is key, says orthopedic surgeon Thomas Dudley, MD, who specializes in conditions of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles, at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's Hospital and Clinics.
"I see such variability in pain tolerance, so I always tell my patients to trust their good judgment," he says.
When it's not obvious, here are five signs your body may be telling you to see an orthopedic surgeon:
- Gradual onset of pain, swelling or stiffness in a joint that is not relieved by modifying the activity, ice or rest, or over-the-counter pain medication within two to three days
- Progressive achiness or numbness in a joint that makes routine activities (e.g., holding a coffee cup, cleaning, climbing the stairs) difficult or impossible
- A muscle, tendon or ligament injury, especially if you heard a popping or catching in the joint and/or notice unsteadiness of the joint
- Pain that keeps you awake at night
- Infection of an injured area with symptoms that may include soreness, redness, warm to the touch, swelling, fever or drainage/pus
Although scheduling an appointment with an orthopedic "surgeon" may sound like doom and gloom, it's good to know that surgery is often the last resort.
"In the absence of trauma or a ligament injury, there are many orthopedic conditions that can be managed in a non-operative fashion," states Dr. Dudley.
Treatment can range from making a diagnosis and monitoring the condition without any intervention to conservative treatment to help with symptoms and lessen the likelihood of progression.
For example, when arthritis is the underlying cause of knee, hip or shoulder pain, conservative treatment options may include:
- Modifying activities
- Exercise or physical therapy
- Over-the-counter pain medications
- Using a walking stick or cane
- Weight loss
- Joint injections
"One of the best things you can do to lessen pain and discomfort from arthritic conditions is to keep moving," advises Dr. Dudley. "You may have to modify your activity for knee or hip arthritis but having these conditions does not mean you have to give up having an active lifestyle."
Dr. Dudley suggests low-impact, cross-training activities such as swimming, biking or using the elliptical.
In some situations, surgery may be the best solution to fix the problem, especially if conservative treatment options are no longer providing relief.
You don't need to live with lingering pain. Gundersen orthopedic surgeons see patients at more than a dozen locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa—and can help you bet back to living your life. Find a location near you.
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