When pain persists, know when to stop home remedies and seek orthopedic care
Warmer weather has a way of getting people moving. You throw yourself into completing a long-awaited backyard project or you go out for an extra-long run, and why not? You’re feeling energetic, or maybe just pent up from months of staying inside.
But it’s easy to overdo it. That’s especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if you’re generally athletic and in shape. After all, quarantine hasn’t been conducive to an active lifestyle — and if you don’t prep your body for strenuous activity after a long sedentary stretch, you’ll quickly realize your mistake.
And then comes the million-dollar question: Are you just feeling aches and pains that will subside on their own, or do you need a higher level of care?
Recognize the red flags
If you’re just feeling a little sore or have minor pain, there’s nothing wrong with waiting to see if the discomfort will subside on its own. In other cases, though, getting the right care is essential so that you don’t suffer needlessly or cause further damage.
For instance, if you trip and twist your ankle, it could just be a mild sprain. But if you can’t walk on it, you may need an X-ray — try to power through without diagnosis and treatment and you may well make things worse.
Watch for these red flags that mean you need to seek care:
- Inability to bear weight
- Severe, unrelenting pain
- Loss of sensation
- Deformity, especially in your limbs
- Symptoms that get worse after a few days
What you can do at home
If you’re not experiencing one of those danger signs, you can try a little first aid. Start with RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation.
You can also take some ibuprofen (Advil), to help reduce inflammation. If the pain persists, add acetaminophen (Tylenol) — these over-the-counter medications can work synergistically. Most people can take these medicines, but talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you’re pregnant or have any concerns.
If your situation doesn’t improve, consider seeking professional care.
Getting specialized care, virtually or in person
One of the silver linings of the dark COVID cloud has been the emergence of telemedicine, which allows providers to conveniently check in with patients without an in-person visit. Northwell Health Orthopedics has developed extensive telehealth services to facilitate certain kinds of evaluations. Telehealth is especially useful for relatively minor injuries that don’t require imaging.
More serious injuries will require an in-person consultation, during which you can have an X-ray exam or other kinds of imaging. These exams can be done at your provider’s facility, which follows stringent cleaning protocols for patient and exam areas.
Northwell has also taken numerous other steps to ensure everyone who visits its hospitals and other facilities can stay safe. For instance, the health system has an ample supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) — more than enough to shield all patients and staff in all specialties. We also continue to follow social distancing guidelines at our facilities. That means that if you who drive to your appointment, you will be asked to remain in your car to reduce exposure in the waiting area.
Once you are called, you will have your temperature checked and you will be screened for COVID symptoms before entering the office. All patients are also required to wear a mask at all times inside our facilities.
When surgery is necessary
During the height of the pandemic, state regulatory guidelines allowed for just emergency and urgent surgeries to be performed, which meant many orthopedic procedures were put on hold. Now that New York has passed the peak of COVID cases, those guidelines have been relaxed.
This is good news for thousands of people waiting to have joint replacements or another orthopedic procedure that can improve their wellbeing. Hospitals in Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau Counties have been able to resume performing these surgeries, and have well-defined protocols to ensure perioperative safety.
If you are scheduled for elective surgery, you will be tested beforehand for illness, including COVID-19. Our providers and surgical staff are also screened, and wear PPE before, during and after surgery.
Whether you have your procedure done at a hospital or ambulatory surgery center, these sorts of COVID-containment protocols help protect your safety and the safety of others.
Nicholas Sgaglione, MD, is professor and chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Northwell Health and the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. He is also the senior vice president and executive director of the Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute. Dr. Sgaglione is a team physician for Hofstra University, the United States Merchant Marine Academy and the New York Lizards Major League Lacrosse team.