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When to See a Doctor for Joint Pain

Joint stiffness and pain are a part of life. As people age, they almost inevitably develop stiffness in one or more joints. That stiffness may cause discomfort or even pain, but not every joint pain requires a trip to a joint pain doctor. Most cases of joint pain are temporary — they will go away on their own or after a short course of over-the-counter pain medications. On the other hand, there are several circumstances when it is important to go to see a doctor for joint pain. We’ll discuss some of those instances.

Do I Need a Doctor for Joint Pain?

If you are wondering whether to see a doctor for joint pain, the best general approach is to err on the side of caution. In other words, trust your instincts. It is better to have a joint pain doctor evaluate your pain and find that it is relatively minor than to ignore a serious cause of joint pain and suffer in silence.

If your instincts are telling you that you probably do not need a joint pain doctor, you could be right, but consider that some cases of joint pain really should be evaluated by a professional.

When to See a Joint Pain Doctor

Some features of joint pain provide clues that the pain may be more serious than the standard stiffness and discomfort that you experience you grow older. Most typical causes of joint pain last a day or two and then resolve. If you are experiencing joint pain that lasts longer than three days, it could mean there is a more serious joint pain process taking place. Moreover, if you notice you are unable to do some of the routine daily activities you once were able to do because of joint pain, it may be reasonable to speak with a professional.

Other joint symptoms are considered red flags and almost always should be evaluated by joint pain doctor. Most joint pain occurs after rest and get better with activity. It is unusual for joint pain to become more intense during periods of rest. Joint pain that worsens during rest or at night is a red flag. If you are severely limited in your ability to use a joint, you should go to the doctor for joint pain.1

Typical joint pain is typical, so if you experience any unusual symptoms in or around the joint, you should take these seriously. Are the joints becoming deformed? Are you unable to move the joint because of stiffness or because of pain? Importantly, typical stiffness is something that can be worked through, but concerning joint pain restricts range of motion in the joint. If you have any of these features, it may be time for you to go to a doctor with joint pain.

When Joint Pain Is an Emergency

If the joint feels warm, swollen, looks red, and you have a fever, this could indicate an infection or septic arthritis. Both are an important reason to see a joint pain doctor. In fact, septic arthritis requires urgent attention, so it is reasonable to seek emergency medical help or contact a joint pain doctor who can see you immediately.

One sort of joint pain that is always a medical emergency is spinal joint pain.2 The spinal joints in your lower back can become damaged or swollen and pinch important nerves at the bottom of your spine. This condition is called cauda equina syndrome. If you are experiencing new back pain, especially after a back injury, and you have lost control of your bladder, bowels, or both, seek emergency medical treatment immediately. This condition can lead to permanent paralysis. It must be treated by a joint pain doctor as quickly as possible.

What Can a Joint Pain Doctor Do?

One of the main reasons people cite for not seeing a joint pain doctor is that they believe their pain is not sufficiently serious. They think a doctor really cannot do anything for them. Even though it is commonly believed, it is not true in most cases. At the very least, a joint pain doctor can provide a diagnosis for the pain and obtain imaging such as X-rays or MRIs to document the problem. This is important to rule out dangerous causes of joint pain and to have a knowledgeable person track any disease if it progresses.

In many cases, a joint pain doctor can do even more. He or she can often relieve joint pain and other symptoms. In the case of surgical treatment, a joint pain doctor may be able to cure the joint pain entirely.

If you think it is time for you to see a doctor for joint pain, talk to the joint pain doctors at iOrtho The Orthopedic Institute.* Our doctors and surgeons are the leading experts in joint pain diagnosis and management in New York City and surrounding areas.

*If you are having a medical emergency, call 911 and seek emergency medical attention immediately.

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