Orthopaedic Problems During COVID-19: When to Get Immediate Care?

Doctor physiotherapist assisting a male patient while giving exercising treatment.

Unfortunately, during this time of social distancing, isolation, and watchful waiting, our orthopaedic problems will continue to bother us and new problems may arise.

Our local and national leaders have recommended that we avoid unnecessary social interactions, and this may make timely evaluation, management, and resolution of our aches and pains more difficult.

One question we are getting quite often is what conditions must be evaluated immediately by a surgeon right away, and what conditions can wait?

As a general rule, treatment of arthritis, or “wear and tear” of a joint that has been going on for a long time can be rescheduled for a later date. It is very likely that the pain you are experiencing is a symptom of the wear and tear that has been going on for months or even years. Arthritis can involve any joint, but most commonly involves the larger joints like shoulders, hips, and knees.

Arthritis pain often changes with the weather, is worse in the morning, and often responds to over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

If the pain becomes unbearable, an in-person evaluation may be necessary to rule out more dangerous causes of pain and consider other treatments such as steroid injections.

New injuries to bones and joints almost always require at least one personal evaluation by an orthopaedic surgeon. These include deep cuts, falls, car accidents, and sharp pains experienced when lifting objects.

Your surgeon needs to make sure you don’t have a time-sensitive problem that needs to be treated right away, such as a broken bone or torn ligament or tendon.

A physical exam and XRays will be used to make the decision, and these must be done by your orthopaedic surgeon. Once your surgeon is confident you will not require immediate treatment or surgery, a treatment plan can usually be set up to help you to continue to heal at home.

Tendonitis is the name for inflammation or irritation of a tendon, but the tendon is not torn completely. It is commonly seen in the hand and wrist, the outside of the elbow, the shoulder, the front of the knee, and around the ankle, and many times happens due to using the tendon too much and too often.

While often quite painful, tendonitis can often wait and be treated with ice, rest, and anti-inflammatory medication. However, if you notice inability to move any part of your body or serious weakness, this may be a sign that the tendon is not working and an in-person visit will likely be necessary.

Nerve problems in the arms are very common and include carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndromes. These conditions lead to shooting pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in the hands and fingers. As long as the symptoms are not extremely painful, these problems can wait for several weeks. However you should not allow these symptoms to remain for months or years untreated because these conditions can lead to permanent problems.

One of the most common reasons patients visit doctors is for back pain. While back pain can be very disabling, most cases can usually be effectively treated at home by a short period of rest (1-2 days), anti-inflammatory medication, heat, and gentle physical therapy exercises that include stretching and core strengthening exercises.

If you have back pain after a fall, or if you are experiencing any new numbness or weakness in your feet or legs, you should schedule a visit to see your orthopaedic doctor in person.

If you have had recent surgery within the last several months and you have new problems with your bone or joint, this probably requires immediate attention.

Although they are rare, findings such as redness, drainage, increased pain, or new problems moving the joint may be a sign of complications related to the surgery. Chances are you have already contacted your surgeon by phone or internet to notify him or her of your concerns, but if you have not done so this would be a good place to start.

Your orthopaedic doctors at the Bone & Joint Surgery Clinic are well equipped and ready to evaluate you over the phone and the internet using “video visits.” Although you may still require an in-person evaluation, a skilled surgeon can use a phone call, picture or video to make a decision on whether you need to come to pay us a visit in person.

Either way, stay safe!

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