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Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Joint health is an important component of healthy living. Here is a primer on some of the most common joint conditions and how specific orthopedic procedures can help.

People often underestimate the importance of their joints until they throw out a shoulder or sprain a knee. Our joints help us move about the world and perform all of the necessary tasks to go about our daily lives. Having a joint condition can significantly affect your mobility and your ability to live comfortably.

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we understand that joint health is crucial. Our orthopedic joint specialists can help you take care of your joints and troubleshoot conditions as they arise so that you can keep moving and living well. Here's a primer on some of the most common joint-related conditions that orthopedic specialists diagnose and treat.

What Is a Joint?

To learn more about joint health, it's essential to know what a joint is in the first place. A joint is the meeting point between two or more bones. Examples of joints include your knee joint, shoulder joint, and ankle joint. Some joints are fixed, meaning that they don't usually allow for movement. Other joints are mobile—moving in two directions (a bend and a flex) or more. To protect the bones of a joint and allow for joint movement, tissues such as cartilage, ligaments, and tendons are also present in a joint. Other structures, such as bursas, are filled with fluid and help cushion the joint. The entire joint system is lined and sealed with a tissue called the synovial membrane. A joint condition can stem from damage or inflammation to any of these tissues.

Diagnosing Joint Conditions

When you're having joint discomfort, the first step in diagnosing your condition is learning more information about the history of the problem. A medical provider will likely ask questions about when the problem started, how frequently it occurs, and what it feels like. They will want to know what measures, if any, you have tried to manage the condition. Then, they will likely do a physical exam.

Depending on the joint, a healthcare provider may use specific movements to stress and test your joint. They may be looking for the joint's range of motion, the particular areas of pain or inflammation, and the amount of laxity (looseness) in the joint. Based on their examination, they may use more tools—such as an X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan, or joint aspiration—to collect more information. All of these measures will help them make an official diagnosis and begin a treatment plan.

Common Joint Conditions

Joint conditions can range from being mildly obnoxious to severely painful. Here's what you need to know about some of the most common joint conditions and how an orthopedic specialist can help.

Shoulder Sprain

Your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body. It allows you to swim, throw a ball, and lift weights, among many other motions. Because of this mobility, it is also the least stable joint in your body. This means that your shoulder joint is vulnerable to injury in the course of doing everyday activities. When the tissue that holds the bones of the shoulder joint together—the ligaments—is stretched or torn, it is called a shoulder sprain. Orthopedic specialists recommend resting a sprained shoulder, using ice packs, and elevating the joint with a sling to remove pressure. If the shoulder sprain is not healing, it may be because there is too much damage. An orthopedic specialist may recommend a shoulder arthroscopy surgical procedure, which uses a small video camera to investigate further and fix damage on the spot.

Rotator Cuff Tear

Another common condition that can occur in the shoulder is a tear of the protective tissues of the shoulder joint known as the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is made up of the tendons of four shoulder muscles. These tendons usually accommodate many different types of overhead motions. However, when the rotator cuff becomes damaged from a tear, it can cause severe pain and problems with lifting your arm. This can happen over time or from a specific lifting event. Usually, a rotator cuff tear can be managed through rest, anti-inflammatory medicines, physical therapy, and specific shoulder exercises. Sometimes, a steroid injection can also help with the pain. However, if you meet particular rotator cuff surgery criteria, your orthopedist may recommend this as a treatment plan.

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis) and Golfer's Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

When you overuse your joints through repetitive motions, it can result in inflammation. This is the case in the conditions of tennis elbow and golfer's elbow. Both conditions cause damage to the tendons of the elbow joint, which then leads to pain, swelling, and tenderness.

In tennis elbow, the pain is on the outside of the elbow joint. It can be caused by repetitive swinging motions that mimic a tennis swing (or by an actual tennis swing). Sometimes, your professional occupation can make you vulnerable to tennis elbow, especially if you're a painter, carpenter, or plumber. In golfer's elbow, the pain is on the inside of the joint, and it is caused by repetitive motions such as those used when you're playing golf. Golfer's elbow can also be caused by overhead motions, such as pitching.

Most people with tennis elbow or golfer's elbow improve with rest, anti-inflammatory medicines, and physical therapy. Braces, steroid injections, and platelet-rich plasma injections are also tools orthopedic specialists use to give patients relief. Suppose these therapies are not working well enough. In that case, an orthopedic specialist can perform surgery to help remove inflamed tissue and reattach healthy tissue.

Wrist Fracture

One of the most common ways to break your wrist is to fall on an outstretched hand. This may happen when you trip and try to catch yourself to brace the impact of your fall. Many different bones in your wrist can break (fracture) with a fall. However, some of the more common fractures include a distal radius fracture and a scaphoid fracture.

You may think that every type of broken bone requires surgery. However, this is often not the case. Sometimes a wrist fracture only requires a splint or a cast, and it will heal well on its own as long as it is immobilized and protected. Other times, a wrist fracture requires surgery in order to restore proper blood supply to the bone. An orthopedic specialist is an expert at looking at your wrist, evaluating imaging tests of your wrist, and making a decision about how to best support the healing process.

Knee Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, often simply called arthritis for short, is the most common condition that occurs in the joints. It is a condition of overuse, meaning that the protective cartilage cushion between the bones of a joint wears down over time, causing the bones to rub against each other. This can cause inflammation, pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Osteoarthritis is particularly common in the knee joint because this joint carries a large part of your body's weight. Knee osteoarthritis can be managed with lifestyle changes such as participating in low-impact activities and losing weight to take pressure off the joint. Anti-inflammatory medicines can also be helpful. A physical therapist can help strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee joint, such as your quadriceps. If these treatments aren't helping relieve your pain enough, an orthopedist may recommend a procedure. This could range from a minimally invasive procedure to clean up damage to the joint to a total knee replacement.

Ankle Sprain

Aside from the shoulder joint, another joint that is commonly sprained is the ankle joint. Ankle joint sprains can range from mild to severe. They generally occur when someone accidentally rolls their ankle so that the bottom of their foot faces inward. In a mild ankle sprain, you may still be able to walk on the ankle, but you may feel the need to do so very carefully to minimize pain. In a severe ankle sprain, you may not feel like you can put pressure on the joint at all. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), almost all ankle sprains can be treated without a surgical procedure. However, patients with an ankle sprain often need a specific timed treatment plan to keep the joint protected. At the same time, they gradually return to activities over 2 to 12 weeks.

Toe Gout (Podagra)

Gout is a type of joint inflammation that can trigger severe pain attacks. It is caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals within a joint capsule. During a gouty flare, you may experience redness, swelling, warmth, and extreme discomfort in a particular joint. The most commonly affected joint in gout is the joint at the base of the big toe, known as the metatarsophalangeal joint. Gout can usually be treated and prevented with medications. However, sometimes the crystals can cause large formations that produce chronic pain. An orthopedic specialist can do a surgical procedure to help remove these crystal clumps and improve your symptoms. They can also fuse a joint that has repeated gouty flares or replace the joint.

Partnering with Lompoc Valley Medical Center

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we don't think of a joint problem as an isolated condition. A joint condition can affect your entire health outlook, from your physical activity level to your emotional and psychological well-being. This is why our dedicated orthopedic specialists are committed to getting you mobile and moving as quickly as possible after you've experienced a joint condition.

To learn more, contact us today.