When should I see an orthopedist?

Woman grabbing her knee in pain


Pain in the bones, joints and muscles can affect anyone. Many issues from musculoskeletal trauma — whether from sports injuries, workplace injuries or degenerative disease — can be debilitating, impacting the smallest tasks in your daily life. 


Some people think that aches and pains and limited mobility are normal parts of aging or something they simply have to deal with. Often, that’s not the case. 


What is musculoskeletal pain?

Musculoskeletal pain is pain that impacts the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Chronic conditions such as arthritis can also lead to musculoskeletal pain. This type of pain can affect the whole body, or it can occur in one specific area of the body.


When musculoskeletal pain is acute, it is severe. The pain can also be chronic and ongoing. Types of musculoskeletal pain include the following: bone pain, muscle pain, joint pain, and tendon and ligament pain. Some musculoskeletal pain can encompass multiple types. For instance, a grade 3 ankle sprain leads to musculoskeletal pain that can include both joint pain and ligament pain. 


The most common causes of musculoskeletal pain are sprains, bone fractures, bad posture, dislocation of the joint or injuries stemming from overuse (i.e., a runner injuring their knee). These events of musculoskeletal pain may be accompanied by stiffness, muscle twitches, ongoing and increasing pain, a burning sensation in the muscles and difficulty sleeping due to pain.


Musculoskeletal pain is treated in a variety of ways: physical therapy, therapeutic massage, occupational therapy, steroid injections and at-home remedies, including rest and anti-inflammatories. 


If you’re experiencing musculoskeletal pain, you might be wondering: What treatments should I try at home, and when should I see a doctor?


What at-home remedies might relieve musculoskeletal pain? 
  • Rest. Avoid activities that use the hurt body part for two to three weeks.

  • Ice. Ice the area for 20 minutes at a time. Cover the ice pack with a towel to avoid direct contact with the skin.

  • Compression. A wrap, but one that’s not too constricting, can give support, counter swelling and provide comfort. 

  • Elevate. Prop the body part so it’s higher than your heart to reduce swelling. 

  • Take an anti-inflammatory. Like aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen.


When should I see a doctor for my musculoskeletal pain? 
  • If the pain hasn’t improved after a two- to three-week rest period. 

  • If the pain becomes intolerable. 

  • If it’s a soft tissue injury that hasn’t improved in 48 hours. 

  • If you have chronic pain in areas like the knee, elbows, neck or back. 

  • If you have stiffness and limited mobility in the joints. 

  • If you’re unable to carry out everyday tasks. 


If you continue to use an injured part of your body, it could make the injury worse. An orthopedic specialist can X-ray the area to ensure you don’t have a fracture or soft tissue injury and recommend a course of treatment. 


Learn more about orthopedics at BJC or find a specialist. Ready to see a doctor? Request a call to book an appointment.

Want to learn more about bone health? Read about what to expect when recovering from an orthopedic surgery, and exercises and nutrition that promote bone health.

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