When You Might Need to Consult an Orthopaedic Specialist

Mar 31, 2020 | Articles

We all experience aches and pains in our muscles and joints, mostly as a result of our daily activities. Generally, these will tend to increase both in frequency and intensity as we get older. Those pains will recede quite quickly with the help of a little rest and perhaps a mild, over-the-counter painkiller, in most cases, but sometimes muscle or joint pains may persist and perhaps even intensify over time. This could be a sign that it’s time to consult an orthopaedic specialist.

The focus of these medical professionals is the musculoskeletal system. More precisely, their area of expertise covers many of the conditions that may affect the more than 200 bones of the human body and the various connective tissues associated with them. The latter include the ligaments that connect bones, holding them in position, the cartilage that protects any articulating bone surfaces and the tendons that, in turn, connect the bones to the muscles responsible for various movements. Joint pain, in particular, will often prompt a GP to refer a patient to an orthopaedic specialist.

The structure of our joints is complex and designed to allow various kinds of movement. For example, those in the fingers allow us to perform intricate activities such as manipulating surgical instruments or typing instruction with a keyboard. Constant pounding on the keys can cause the condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome, characterised by pain, numbness and tingling in the hands and arms due to compression of certain nerves in the wrist. Typically, an orthopaedic specialist will study X-rays and perform a nerve conduction test to confirm the diagnosis and, in most cases, will treat the condition conservatively with some combination of rest, ice packs, anti-inflammatory medications, splinting and physiotherapy. In extreme cases, surgical intervention might be the best option.

While the shoulder and elbow joints are also prone to wear and tear, it is the hips and the knees that must absorb the weight of the entire body. Both of these joints tend to be affected by osteoarthritis, a condition in which the protective cartilage covering the articulating surfaces of the bones becomes eroded.  An orthopaedic specialist will need to perform surgery, either to resurface the affected bones or to replace any damaged sections of the bone with a specially designed prosthesis.

The condition is a progressive one and is characterised by pain and swelling in the affected joints due to the effect of friction on the exposed bone surfaces. Until quite recently, a problem that almost exclusively affected those over 65, is now becoming increasingly common in younger people, especially those who are significantly overweight. Today, partial and total hip and knee replacements are regarded as the most successful interventions performed by the orthopaedic specialist.

Injuries to the bones and joints are a fairly common occurrence among those amateurs and professionals who enjoy contact sports. On the fields and tracks, once again, it is the knees that tend to be among the joints that are most often affected by sports injuries. Other common knee injuries include tears to the meniscus and anterior cruciate ligaments. In addition to the reduction of miscellaneous fractures and dislocations, and elective hip, knee and shoulder replacements, these injuries are the routine tasks of an orthopaedic specialist

If you wish to learn more about this specialised field or wish to make an appointment with Dr Jan de Vos, contact us at 012 807 0335 or send an email to admin@drdevos.co.za.