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By Susan J. White
While the old adage “no pain no gain” might help motivate some athletes in training, pain is not something to ignore when it comes to most musculoskeletal system injuries. In fact, waiting too long to treat some conditions can lead to greater problems, loss of function and diminished quality of life.
Alex Gordon, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon and hip and knee replacement expert at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute, part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health, shares some of the more common injuries that need immediate attention.
When a muscle tears away from the bone, which is a fairly common rotator cuff injury, undergoing surgical repair as soon as possible is important. Muscles are attached to bones via tendons, and once the connection is severed, the nerve will fire signals, but nothing will contract and over the time irreversible muscle atrophy will occur, explained Dr. Gordon. “If you delay the procedure, ultimately there is nothing to repair,” he added.
Low back pain is one of the most common conditions that sends people to a doctor’s office. There are effective, non-surgical treatments for back pain, spinal stenosis and degenerative arthritis, but when pain is severe and loss of function occurs, it’s time to see a specialist.
“The longer you [wait] and the body starts using compensatory methods, the harder it can be to get back to normal,” said Dr. Gordon. “It’s important to get an evaluation and understand the cause of the problem and determine the best treatment options,” he said. Loss of function like a numb arm, foot drop or weak grip can be a sign that a nerve is being pinched and prompt medical assessment is critical.
Foot sprains and wrist sprains are fairly common injuries that should be treated rather aggressively due to the complex architecture and many small bones in the wrist, hands and feet. “Structural damage in these areas can lead to long-term and hard-to-treat problems,” said Dr. Gordon.
Infections, common in the fingernails and feet, need to be treated swiftly, especially in immune-compromised people or those with diabetes. Obvious redness, swelling and pain that is not getting better, or is getting worse is a sign to seek treatment and avoid serious complications like sepsis.
Tendon injuries common in the foot and ankle, bicep and rotator cuff can also be time-sensitive for optimal repair and return to function. If you hear a pop, see notable bruising, experience pain or can tell something isn’t working correctly it’s vital to see an orthopaedic specialist to ascertain the nature of the injury and the right course of treatment, said Dr. Gordon.
Sometimes the right course of treatment is rest and disregarding that can lead to bigger problems. Tendonitis can become a partial tear, stress fractures can become broken bones and it can be difficult, especially for an athlete who doesn’t want to leave their sport, to discern the severity of the condition.
“It can be hard to tell the difference between a minor issue and a more serious one, particularly for some athletes who are used to training and experiencing soreness,” said Dr. Gordon. “We have specialists for every part of your body, physicians who can guide you to the best possible treatment for you. It’s so important to listen to your body and take care of it.”
The team of experts at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute offers world-class options close by to help you feel like yourself again. We use innovative, minimally invasive techniques for joint replacement, complex spine surgeries, sports medicine and more, so you can get back to the activities you enjoy sooner. Learn more.