Some Common Reasons for Consulting a Joint Specialist
Most of us will have suffered a swollen and painful knee, ankle, or elbow at some time, and will probably have responded by applying an over-the-counter topical analgesic and perhaps attempting to avoid overuse of the affected limb. Typically, the discomfort would have passed after a day or two, and we would have been able to resume playing soccer, squash, or whatever physical activities may have caused the sprain or strain in the first place. On occasions, however, the pain may persist and be unresponsive to rest and painkillers. At this point, the attention of joint specialists might prove necessary.
In some instances, the explanation for that persistent pain will have been a fall or some form of accident. In more extreme cases, the result might be a dislocation or a fracture, The former can often be dealt with by a GP, if available, while both are routinely handled by the staff of an emergency unit. However, should the usual treatment protocol of rest, ice, compression, and elevation prove to be ineffective, the next step will be to refer the patient to a joint specialist. Failure to apply the effective treatment at this stage could later result in post-traumatic arthritis.
Sometimes, a condition can develop in the absence of any related trauma, and the first physical evidence of a problem is a loss of function. For example, the movement in a knee or an ankle may have become restricted, preventing it from supporting your weight at times. It is essential to restore mobility for quality of life and safety, which is precisely what joint specialists are trained to do. To achieve this might require surgery or it could be resolved with medication and physiotherapy, depending upon the nature of the condition and its severity.
Until now, the problems discussed involved localised pain or loss of mobility. On occasions, however, the symptoms can be far more widespread and due to some form of systemic disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout. Untreated, such conditions can cause the destruction of affected joints and while a GP may often help, joint specialists who, in this case, might be rheumatologists, will generally be better equipped to recognise and to treat such conditions promptly and effectively.
Today, by far the most common cause of a painful and swollen knee is osteoarthritis. Once again, the condition can be recognised and treated by a primary carer who will initially prescribe a course of painkillers to alleviate the discomfort. The condition is a progressive one in which the cartilage coating the articulating surfaces of the bones becomes eroded, allowing them to become damaged. Invariably, specialists will be required to perform a joint replacement once the medication ceases to be effective.
It is not only knees that are affected by osteoarthritis. The hip is also a frequent target of this condition. Once again, the ultimate remedy will be to replace one or both of its worn components with prosthetic ones. Shoulders, elbows, wrist, and hands all contain articulating surfaces, as do ankles and feet, so it is not uncommon for a joint specialist, such as an orthopaedic surgeon, to choose to focus his or her expertise on just one or two of these areas and the various techniques involved in their treatment.