— Not an actual patient/physician

What to Expect at Your First Orthopedic Visit

Scheduling that first doctor’s visit for your joint pain can be scary. Here’s an idea of what you can expect during a typical first appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. 

Scheduling an orthopedic appointment

Joint pain is scary and can limit your ability to participate in sporting activities, exercise, family functions, social functions, and can immobilize you causing further hardships. I’ve found that many are afraid to seek medical attention because they fear that their only option is surgery. Actually, there are many non-operative options that are typically explored before considering joint replacement surgery.

We pay for those injuries that we had when we were younger, for the sports that we played, and the jobs that we did. Accidents through life affect our joints and there’s also a hereditary factor. I hear people talk about their siblings, mom, dad or grandparents who had bowed legs or knock knees. Relatives  that required hip or knee replacements. Some people have inflammatory joint disease such as arthritis, lupus or psoriasis. As we age our joints no longer can repair themselves.

The first thing to do is make the decision to seek medical help. If this feels scary or overwhelming, try looking at it as though you’re simply going to go learn about what’s causing your pain and what options are available to you.

Who will I see during my ortho visit?

Often times, during a new patient visit, the orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine doctor will try to make sure that they stop in and meet you, even if your appointment’s with the nurse practitioner or physician assistant. In today’s world, the physician assistants and nurse practitioners assist orthopedic surgeons in their office as well as during surgery. They may be your conduit to a busy orthopedic surgeon. So, when you make an appointment, don’t be afraid to ask, will I be able to meet the doctor if my appointment is with the nurse practitioner or physician assistant?

Many orthopedic surgeons, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants work as a team. We are all in the office at the same time and each of us have our own schedules. For example, I bounce back-and-forth between my nurse practitioner and physician assistant if they have new patients or patients with questions.

What typically happens during a first ortho appointment?

You’ll likely be asked several questions to help your doctor understand your medical history and what effect it’s had on your joints. They will need to know what kinds of treatment you’ve already had (if any). This helps assess possible risks of various non-surgical and surgical options. Your surgeon will need to know as much as possible about you so that together, you can make the best decisions on how to move forward with your care.

During your first visit, an X-ray of your painful joint will be taken, or you will be sent to a radiology facility for an X-ray after your appointment to assess the amount of wear or arthritis. Old X-rays or other tests can be helpful as they may show progression, or lack of progression, of a relatively normal joint. This may be all that’s needed to assess your joint. Other tests, however, may become necessary such as labs, MRI’s or CT‘s which would be ordered if needed and would require a return visit.

What next?

Once you have been examined and all of the data is gathered, your surgeon can give you an opinion about what options you have. Many times, we’ll want you to try non-operative treatment first. Surgery should be a last resort if non-surgical treatments don’t help relieve your pain.

Part of your surgeon’s job is to provide you with information and recommendations so that you can make the decision that’s best for you. There’s no wrong answer. We all have different abilities to deal with pain and limitation of motion. We all have different tolerances of this and there is nothing wrong with you taking control of your options. It often becomes a quality of life issue.

I tell my patients that there’s no rush to proceed to surgery. Medications, natural anti-inflammatories, exercise, yoga, physical therapy, chiropractic treatments, injections, arthroscopic procedures, and partial or total joint replacements are all options. 

Joint surgery is an elective procedure. Patients worry that if they wait too long, their doctor won’t be able to fix it. Although additional pain and joint damage can worsen if you wait, with today’s technology, an arthritic joint can usually be fixed. Sometimes, waiting can open up new technological options.  However, if the quality of your life is decreasing, then it may be time to move forward. Learn what your options are and then make a decision that’s best for you. You and your surgeon can discuss trying non-surgical things first. You may have more options available than you think. Click here to find an orthopedic surgeon near you.

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