If you have an ache in your knee, can you self-diagnose or should you go to the doctor?
If you are over the age of 55 and your knee:
• Feels stiff and achy in the morning, gets better after you start moving around, but then hurts if you try going for too long a walk OR
• Gets tight and stiff when sitting for a prolonged period of time and hurts the most when going up and down stair
And if these symptoms have come on gradually as opposed to an acute traumatic event, then you probably have knee osteoarthritis.
But you might not.
I believe that people should go to their primary musculoskeletal doctor (who could be a family practitioner, orthopedist, rheumatologist, or physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor) for regular check-ups to screen for potential musculoskeletal problems. You don't wait until you have a heart attack to go to your internist to screen for heart disease - why would you wait until you have pain to screen for biomechanical problems that lead to pain?
With this background in mind, I strongly recommend that if you have pain, you get it checked out by your doctor. If your knee pain resembles the type I described in the first paragraph above, it is indeed probably knee osteoarthritis.
But it could be something very different. It could be a meniscal tear, patellar tracking problem, ligament tear, stress fracture, or bursitis. It could even be an infection or -- and this is extremely unlikely, but I want you to get the idea -- it could be a tumor.
These are just a few of the possibilities. Your symptoms might not even be coming from your knee! You may be having referred pain from your hip or spine.
I understand that it is tempting to make a self-diagnosis and start treating your pain on your own. I know it can be a hassle to go to your doctor, but, as you can see, it can also be dangerous not to. The most important step in your treatment is an accurate diagnosis. From there, your primary musculoskeletal doctor can help make the pain go away faster, and also offer solutions to help keep the pain from returning.
In next week's blog, we will discuss how to find the best musculoskeletal doctor for you. However, some simple pointers include:
- Ask your primary care doctor for a referral
- Talk to your family and friends who have had similar injuries and ask about their individual experiences with their doctors
- Don't be afraid to seek a second opinion. Finding a musculoskeletal doctor that is an excellent clinician who you can connect with is important. Ideally, you are not just treating the current condition but building a relationship with someone who will help keep you pain-free into the future.
You don't have time to be hurting. There are things to do and activities to enjoy. It may seem expedient to treat yourself at home without the aid of a doctor, but it is, in fact, counterproductive. Find a musculoskeletal specialist you feel comfortable with and make an appointment. In the long run, it will save you pain and time so you can return to a pain-free active life sooner.