If you have sudden or ongoing pain in your knee, hip or shoulder, you may wonder when it’s time to seek medical care for your joint problem. You may be able to manage pain on your own for a while, but how do you know if joint pain is a sign of a serious problem that needs care?
When should you seek care for joint pain?
If you have joint pain or mobility issues, it’s important to contact an orthopaedic expert who specializes in treating conditions that affect the muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues.
Joint symptoms can be addressed through a range of treatment options and making an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon is often the first step in finding relief. Some of the reasons to see an orthopaedic surgeon include:
- New joint pain that isn’t getting better on its own
- Chronic joint pain that has lasted for months or years
- Limited mobility, such as difficulty walking, climbing stairs or reaching above your head
- Difficulty changing position, such as moving from a sitting position to a standing position
- New use of a cane, walker or wheelchair due to your joint pain or mobility issues
- Severe pain that may wake you at night
- Regular use of over-the-counter medications to manage your joint pain
- Changes to a joint’s appearance, like a straight leg that has begun to bow
“You shouldn’t have to live with joint pain,” says Jeffrey Lange, MD, a hip and knee surgeon at the Center for Joint Health and Mobility at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “If something is wrong, call us to be evaluated. Every evaluation is different, because every patient is unique.”
Delaying joint care can lead to injury and other problems
For patients who have joint pain or mobility issues, it’s important to stay current with your joint health. In some cases, ignoring joint pain for too long may increase pain or mobility problems, or even result in a fall or injury.
“The more proactive you are in preserving your joints, the longer we anticipate they will last,” says Dr. Lange. “Taking care of your joint pain early could delay or prevent the need for surgery. If you do need surgery, having surgery earlier can lead to better outcomes in many cases. The details differ for every person, which is why we always suggest having an evaluation with a clinician to better understand your own unique situation.”
A check-in with your orthopaedic specialist can help you understand all the available options for your unique situation. Together, you and your orthopaedic specialist can:
- Address your joint symptoms and concerns
- Review or order imaging, such as an X-ray or an MRI
- Discuss exercises or other lifestyle changes that can reduce pain and improve mobility
- Discuss the role of pain medicine
- Schedule a cortisone injection to help relieve pain and inflammation in a joint
- Pursue a referral to physical therapy
- Discuss joint replacement surgery or another procedure
- Discuss the risks and benefits of continuing care versus waiting for a period of time
Benefits of virtual care for joint problems
A consultation with an orthopaedic specialist can be done in-person or virtually. A virtual visit allows you to accomplish many of the same things you would review during an in-person visit. Many patients are realizing the benefits of virtual care for joint problems, including:
- Convenience: Patients don’t have to drive to the clinic or hospital. This is particularly helpful for orthopaedic patients who may be in pain or who have limited mobility.
- Saving time: The average virtual visit lasts about 20-30 minutes and doesn’t involve the time needed to do things like travel to an appointment and find your doctor’s office.
- Connection: Many patients have been able to maintain strong emotional connections with their providers during virtual visits.
“Going to the doctor’s office used to be a half- or even full-day affair for some patients,” says Dr. Lange. “With a virtual visit, patients can meet with me for a short period of time from the comfort of their homes. They feel like they are still connected with their provider without having to put themselves at risk by leaving their home during this difficult time.”
Safe care for joint pain during COVID-19
While many knee, hip and shoulder problems can be addressed remotely, your orthopaedic specialist may want to see you in person for a follow-up evaluation. If you need to visit the clinic, your provider can give you an overview of what to expect during your in-person meeting.
Guided by our Safe Care Commitment, the Center for Joint Health and Mobility has put many safety measures in place to provide the safest possible environment for patients during COVID-19. If you need to visit the clinic for an in-person visit, you will encounter the following safety protocols designed to protect patients and staff:
- A universal masking policy that requires all patients and staff to wear a face mask
- Screening of all patients and staff to confirm they don’t have symptoms of COVID-19
- Spacing of furniture in waiting rooms and other common spaces to maximize physical distancing
- Signage that directs foot traffic and optimizes the flow of staff and patients
- Fewer patients in waiting rooms and fewer providers in clinical spaces at any one time
- Regular deep cleaning of clinical spaces, waiting rooms and frequently-touched surfaces
- Cleaning and disinfecting of exam rooms after each visit
Patients who are admitted to the hospital for an orthopaedic surgery are required to get a COVID-19 test prior to their scheduled procedure. Patients who test positive for the coronavirus must reschedule their operation.
“Many patients who have joint replacement surgery during the pandemic choose to go home on the same day of their procedure,” says Dr. Lange. “Patients can stay in the hospital after their procedure if they choose, but patients who qualify for a same-day surgery have the option to go home faster if they want.”
Patient-centered approach to caring for your joints
The Center for Joint Health and Mobility at the Brigham is home to expert orthopaedic specialists who combine advanced treatments with a modern and personalized approach to manage your joint health.
“We’re not just a joint replacement center, we’re a joint health center,” says Dr. Lange. “We provide a single center where patients can get all of their joint health needs in one place, from rehabilitation specialists to joint replacement surgeons. We take a holistic approach to keeping your joints healthy and in optimal condition for as long as possible.”
To schedule an in-person visit or virtual appointment with an orthopaedic specialist, visit the Center for Joint Health and Mobility at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.