Sometimes, at-home treatment options aren’t enough to successfully address ongoing joint pain, and patients should seek professional care.
Joint pain is defined as discomfort arising from the tissues involved in connecting two or more bones in the human body.
Joint pain is incredibly common: In one study of people over the age of 40, more than 70 percent of women and 65 percent of men reported having some type of joint pain within the last 12 months, with hip and knee being the most commonly affected joints.
Questions to Consider Before Seeing a Doctor
When deciding whether to see a doctor for joint pain, some questions for patients to consider include:
- How long has the pain persisted?
- Has there been improvement in symptoms over time?
- If you've tried treating the pain yourself in the past, did the at-home treatment give you joint pain relief?
In general, patients should seek medical treatment if:
- The pain has lasted longer than a week and isn’t improving
- Daily activities are significantly affected
- You can’t walk
- You have a fever
Fever associated with joint pain, while rare, can signal a joint infection.
What to Expect on the First Doctor Visit
On the first doctor visit related to joint pain, patients should expect a thorough interview, full medical exam and basic medical imaging. The doctor will discuss the treatment options available, and you should anticipate playing an active role in deciding what treatment options are best for you.
Surgery is typically the last stop in the joint pain relief treatment path, and patients are most likely to need surgery for an injury that has poor potential for healing with non-operative treatment and affects their everyday activities, for end-stage osteoarthritis or if the joint is infected.
If Surgery is the Recommended Treatment
Some things to keep in mind before joint pain surgery:
- Depending on your overall health and age, you may require surgical clearance from your primary care physician before surgery can be performed.
- Patients can’t be on any blood-thinning medications before surgery, including anti-inflammatories. Any anti-inflammatory meds or blood thinners need to be stopped at least one week before surgery.
- Surgery will be performed in a surgicenter or hospital setting, so be prepared to travel somewhere other than your doctor’s office.
The long-term prognosis for joint surgery most often ranges from very good to excellent, even for serious injury or osteoarthritis. After most joint surgeries, patients will be able to bear weight on the joint immediately, with some exceptions. And the post-surgical treatment plan will likely require some physical therapy.
Depending on the surgery, recovery will take anywhere from three weeks for small arthroscopic procedures to three months for joint replacement and reconstructive surgeries.
A Path to Recovery
Diagnosing the causes of joint pain and working with patients on comprehensive treatment plans are what orthopedic specialists have been trained to do. Before giving up or resigning themselves to surgery, patients should seek an expert opinion. Together, orthopedic specialists and patients can develop a path to recovery.