When Should You See an Orthopedic Specialist?

orthopedic specialist examining hip and lumbar spine x-ray

An orthopedic doctor specializes in diseases, issues, and injuries that involve the musculoskeletal system. In addition, these doctors play an important role in the rehabilitation of spine and joint conditions. They diagnose, treat, and prevent conditions that affect body parts from your cervical vertebrae to your hands and feet.

Orthopedic doctors work in both specialized practices and hospitals to treat numerous conditions. These problems may include broken bones, arthritis, congenital conditions, joint problems, and more. They handle everything from minor sprains to complex hip replacements.

There are more than 300 bones and joints in the human body. Even if just one of these parts isn’t working properly, it can mean serious pain and discomfort for the patient. Knowing when to contact an orthopedist isn’t easy, but there are signs to keep an eye out for.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain describes any pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks. Experiencing neck of lower back pain over a period of several days is normal, but experiencing it over several weeks and months is not. This is one of the most common indications that something may be wrong.

In addition, chronic pain shares a close relationship with another important indicator: functionality. For older people, joint pain and bone discomfort are common, but it should not prevent you from completing daily activities. If you struggle when you go for a walk or climb stairs, then you may need to see a specialist.

Doctors often treat chronic pain with over the counter pain medicines, such as ibuprofen. That being said, there are other methods as well, such as yoga. Something that works for one person else may not work for you and vice versa. So, you will have to experiment until you find the right treatment. Sometimes, people turn to nerve stimulation, acupuncture, or even surgery for treatment. Consult with your doctor to devise a personalized treatment plan.

chronic upper back pain

Limited Range of Motion

Tightness in the joints can significantly impair a person’s range of motion. Additionally, a limited range of motion may indicate a joint disease, such as arthritis. Medication may treat some joint diseases, while surgery may be necessary for other cases. It really depends on what is causing the problem.

Like chronic pain, a limited range of motion could mean virtually anything. It could indicate that a person has anything from gout to a sports injury. Basically, there are many conditions that limit a person’s range of motion. So, if you notice this symptom you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. The sooner you can seek treatment, the more likely you are to have a good outcome.

Because this symptom falls under a broad list of conditions, arthritis will be used as an example for treatment options. In the case of arthritis, your orthopedic specialist may give you NSAIDs, DMARDs, or analgesics. Sometimes, a specialist may also give you counterirritants, biologic response modifiers, or corticosteroids. It depends on what kind of arthritis you have and the severity of your condition. For some types of arthritis, physical therapy can improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles that surround the joints. In some cases, a specialist may give you a splint or brace to wear.

In cases where conservative measures do not help, a specialist may recommend surgery. They will likely perform either a joint repair, joint replacement, or joint fusion. Repairs involve smoothing and realigning joints while replacements remove the bad joint and replace it with an artificial one. In the case of spinal fusion, the ends of the two bones in the joint are removed and locked together. Then, they heal into a single unit.

range of motion assessment


If you feel wobbly or shaky when walking, sitting down, or standing up, then something may be wrong with your joints. Again, it is important to contact a specialist in cases like this because it does not get better with time. Muscle weakness and unstable joints can contribute to loss of balance. Knee arthritis commonly causes instability while walking or standing up. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of knee arthritis. Again, most types of arthritis have both conservative and surgical treatment options. Many people opt for physical therapy, NSAIDs, and rest, but more severe cases may require surgery. In these cases, damaged cartilage and ligaments cannot heal on their own.

Soft Tissue Injury

Examples of soft tissue injuries include a sprained ankle, busted wrist, or twisted knee. If you have a soft tissue injury you should always rest, apply ice and compression, and elevate the joint (the RICE method):

  • Rest: After suffering an injury, the first thing you should do is rest. Trying to push through the pain will only further damage the tissue or the ligaments. If possible, (especially if the injury is to the knee or ankle) have one or two people escort you to an area where you can sit or lie down.
  • Ice: Many people use cold packs or frozen peas for this, and they’re great for it. As long as you do not apply ice directly to your skin (this causes frostbite), cold treatment will provide short-term relief. Additionally, cold treatment minimizes swelling by reducing blood flow to the injured area.

applying compression to an injury

  • Compression: Wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage to further reduce swelling and promote a quicker recovery. Make sure that you do not wrap the affected area too tightly. If you have wrapped the affected area too tightly, you may feel numbness, tingling, or swelling.
  • Elevate: Keep the affected area above chest level any time you sit or lay down. In the case of a sprained ankle, you should prop it up on a stack of pillows so that it is higher than your chest. This will help to reduce any swelling.

If you follow this method and do not see improvements in your injury in 72 hours, then you should seek out an orthopedic specialist. Most of the time, the RICE method leads to a smooth, fast recovery. But, something more serious may be wrong if it does not work.

If you think you may need to see an orthopedic specialist, please contact us at (855) 210-0899. NYC Spine views surgery as a last resort and will work tirelessly to make sure that all of your needs are met.

At New York City Spine Surgery, our standard for excellent care means treating you as a whole person, and not just another spine disorder on a chart.

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