Do you have ongoing pain in your muscles, tendons or joints? You are not alone. Over 28 million Americans of all ages develop some form of musculoskeletal problem every year. If you are like many people, you assume that a few days of rest and some pain relievers will solve the problem. But perhaps it is time to see an orthopedic doctor.

Patient with orthopedic doctorWhat Is an Orthopedic Doctor?

For some injuries and conditions, it is best to consult an orthopedic specialist who has been trained in the care of the musculoskeletal system.  Orthopedic doctors specialize in the “prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.” They work in hospitals and specialized practices, handling everything from sprained ankles to joint problems, degenerative conditions, congenital conditions, and bone tumors.

If you are experiencing pain or other problems with your muscles, joints, or bones, you may wonder if you need to see a doctor.  If you have any of the following symptoms, you may need to see an orthopedic doctor for an evaluation:

Joint Pain

Persistent or chronic joint pain may be a sign of arthritis. Chronic pain lasts for three to six months, or never entirely goes away. If you have morning stiffness in your joints that lasts an hour or more, or pain and stiffness that gets worse when you are inactive and gets better when you are physically active, you should see a doctor. Young people can develop arthritis, but the chance of developing arthritis increases as we grow older. Risk factors include previous joint injuries, excess weight, and repetitive use of joints.

Swollen Joints

Swollen joints often happen in the shoulders, knees, elbows, feet, and hips and may be a sign of bursitis. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the muscles, tendons, and bones from rubbing against one another. Bursitis means these sacs are swollen. Common causes include overuse, an increased activity level, or excess weight.

Difficulty Climbing Stairs

Climbing and descending stairs are particularly difficult for people with knee arthritis. Over time, arthritis causes the cartilage that cushions the knee joint to degenerate. Without protective cushioning, the act of climbing stairs becomes painful, even for those with mild arthritis. If you have problems with stairs, getting out of chairs, or other daily activities, it may be time to get help.

person with shoulder painShoulder Pain

Tendons connect the muscles to the bones. When they are overworked, injured, or lose elasticity over the years, the tendon may swell and become inflamed. If you are experiencing shoulder pain that gets worse at night and also worsens with movement, you should consult an orthopedic doctor.

Pain or Injuries from Repetitive Motions

Many occupations involve repetitive motions, such as use of machines that vibrate, forceful exertions, poor posture, or continually contorting your body into awkward positions.  Such movement can cause stress injuries, resulting in stiffness, tenderness or tingling that often affect the back, neck, arms, and hands.

Numbness or Tingling in Your Hands

The nerve traveling from your wrist to your forearm provides feeling to your thumb and some of your fingers. If you have a tingling sensation in your thumb, index or middle fingers, or are dropping things all the time, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition is common in people who work with tools or machinery that require repetitive flexing motions in the wrist.

Hip Pain

People sometimes experience hip pain in the thigh, the buttock, or the hip itself. If the pain is ongoing or gets worse, you may have arthritis or an injury. If the pain is sudden or extreme, you should consult a doctor right away.

Lower Back Pain

There are many factors that contribute to lower back pain, such as a sedentary lifestyle, aging, or lifting heavy objects. Whether it is a sharp pain or an ache, about 80 percent  of American adults have pain in the lower back at some time.(can you find a source for this claim?)  If your lower back pain lasts more than a few weeks or is accompanied by fever, chills, or sudden weight loss, you should consult a doctor.

Swelling in the Wrist

If you fall, you may land on your hand, causing your wrist to become bruised and swollen. If that happens, you may have stretched or possibly even torn the ligaments in that area, causing a sprain and loss of mobility in your wrist.

person with ankle painTwisted Ankle

Many people have sprained an ankle at one time or another. It can happen easily, whether you are walking on uneven ground, or stepping off a curb and rolling or twisting your ankle.  Some people are more likely to sprain their ankles due to the way their feet are positioned or because of their posture. If you have sprained an ankle in the past, you are more likely to do it again. Delaying treatment may prolong the condition.

Muscle Pain and Stiffness

If you were injured and the area is now bruised, painful or swollen, you may have a muscle contusion. If you have struck or been struck by a hard object, then the muscle fibers may be crushed even if the skin is not broken. There may be a lump if blood has pooled under the skin.

Unhealed Injury

All injuries take time to heal, but if the injured area over the bone is swollen, bruised, or very painful and you have lost some function, then you may have a fracture. Fractures are broken or cracked bones. They happen commonly to the arms, hips, spine, and legs, particularly to children or older adults. It is important to have a fracture properly treated to ensure full use of function in the injured body part.

The sooner your musculoskeletal problem is diagnosed, the sooner your doctor can begin to treat it. An orthopedic doctor will evaluate the problem and its causes and explain all of your treatment options. Your treatment may include pain management, physical therapy, and rehabilitation programs. Prompt and effective treatment can also help prevent further injury.

Our team of orthopedic specialists  offer many surgical and non-surgical treatment options to improve your quality of life. If you are experiencing any of these problems, contact The Chicago Center for Orthopedics at Weiss Memorial Hospital.