Orthopedic problems are akin to the human experience as hot weather is to the month of July in Gloucester.
It's simply not possible to make it through life without acquiring a sidelining injury at some point or another.
As a child, it's nearly guaranteed that you'll recover fully from whatever it is that you've done, but the consequences of injuring yourself as an adult can be much more severe.
The term "orthopedic injury"' is frequently associated with damage to a ligament, tendon, muscle or a bone. Tearing or rupture of the soft tissues surrounding a joint can compromise strength, stability, the overall function of that body part and you as a whole.
If you're lucky, you'll be able to avoid surgery and heal without any lasting deficits — but leaving a damaged part to its own devices can be a big roll of the dice.
Listed below are some of the more commonly experienced orthopedic problems — and what could happen if you elect to manage them without surgery.
Rotator cuff tears are certainly one of the more painful and regularly occurring of all the possible shoulder injuries. All of the best medical research, clinical observations and conservative management strategies indicate that rotator cuff tears do not heal on their own. Medium-sized tears become large tears, and large tears are likely to rupture.
Without surgery, the probability of tear progression and catastrophic loss of arm function is almost definite. It's a long and painful six-month rehabilitation process after surgery, but when faced with the possibility of being unable to use your arm, it should be an easy decision.
An ACL tear, usually the product of a high-energy trauma, can be the source of some long-term nagging problems if left unaddressed. After the initial trauma and recovery phase, it is possible for patients to lead pain-free lives; there are, however, a number of recreational activities that can cause you some trouble if you aren't careful.
High-level sporting or impact activity such as running, skiing or basketball is probably out of the question. In the absence of an anterior cruciate ligament, the knee lacks a tremendous amount of stability.
Repetitive micro-trauma and shear forces that would normally be prevented by an ACL vastly accelerate the arthritic process, catapulting patients toward knee replacement surgery. So remember, although surgery isn't mandatory, without it you'll need to curtail some of your hobbies.
Disc herniations frequently result in sciatica and intense back and neck pain, often reaching a near ten out of ten on the pain scale. Although disc bulges and herniations can be completely incapacitating, nearly all patients recover fully, rarely requiring surgical intervention.
If your herniation has caused weakness in your leg or arm, or if you have severe sensory problems like a numb hand or foot, you most likely need surgery. Those are all signs of serious nerve root compression. If a nerve is under duress for too long, those unpleasant signs and symptoms can become a permanent part of your life.
While it's obvious not every patient with an injury requires surgery in order to have a successful outcome, there are certain conditions that require close attention.
As with anything, it's extremely important to be a well-educated patient — a sound mind keeps a sound body, so ask questions about your injury.
Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes "On the Mend" weekly. Questions may be submitted to Joe by email at email@example.com.