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What to Expect at My First Orthopedic Visit for Shoulder Pain

Not knowing what to expect during a visit with a shoulder orthopedic surgeon may keep you from making an appointment. Here, Dr. Sperling discusses what you can expect.

For many patients, concern about what a visit to an orthopedic surgeon’s office entails can be the biggest barrier to having their shoulder pain evaluated. In this article, we’ll discuss what to expect when you make an appointment to have your shoulder pain evaluated at an orthopedic surgeon’s office.

The first step is reaching out to your orthopedic surgeon’s office. Many times, this surgeon will be recommended by your primary care doctor or perhaps a friend who has seen this surgeon in the past.

When you call to make an appointment, the staff will likely ask the reason for your visit, as well as some background or history about your symptoms. Questions may include how long you’ve had pain, whether or not you had a specific injury, and what testing (if any) has already been performed. They may also ask if you’ve previously had shoulder surgery and the reason that surgery was performed. In addition, the office staff may inquire about what treatments you’ve already tried such as medication, injections, or possibly physical therapy.

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Prior to your appointment, the doctor’s office may ask you to fill out paperwork that details your medical and surgical history, including medications. The paperwork may ask additional questions about other symptoms that you may or may not be having. Some doctors’ offices have these forms online; whereas others have paper forms to complete.

Preparing for your appointment

Prior to your appointment, it’s helpful to think through when your symptoms first started and how you would describe the location and type of pain that you’re experiencing. If you’ve already had some testing performed, such as an MRI or CT scan, it’s important to follow up with the doctor’s office ahead of your appointment to ensure that these imaging studies arrived at their office and can be uploaded to be viewed by the care team. It can be frustrating if studies that you expected to be available aren’t at the time of your appointment. 

Prior to your appointment, it’s helpful to prepare a list of questions for your doctor and their care team.  Many patients find that it’s beneficial to have the list of questions written down ahead of the appointment.

Day of your appointment

Typically, most orthopedic surgeons have a large team to help with patient care. After checking in at the front desk, you may be brought to a room by a member of the care team. In some offices, orthopedic surgeons have very experienced advanced care providers such as physician’s assistants or nurses that may ask about your symptoms as well as perform an examination. There are some offices where the physician assistant or nurse is the first line of treatment in helping you feel better. 

A focused examination is typically performed. It’s important to let the team know right away if you experience any pain with the examination. Based on this information, X-rays or other advanced imaging test may be performed. 

Based on your symptoms and examination, the care team may make a recommendation about treatment or additional testing. It’s helpful to have an understanding of what to expect from various treatments and how long it may take before you start feeling better. It’s also helpful to know next steps if your symptoms don’t improve. 

The team will also provide you with contact information in case you think of additional questions when you return home.


Taking the first step and contacting an orthopedic surgeon’s office to make an appointment can be intimidating.  Rest assured that your care team is in place to help you. Don't be afraid to ask questions, including questions about any risks that might be associated with recommended treatment(s).

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