How quickly should you see an orthopedist after your injury?
Thursday, October 3, 2019

When it comes to your bones and joints, “Dr. Google” just won’t do. That might work for determining if you have a cold or the flu, but when it comes to your skeletal system, doctors strongly suggest you don’t self-diagnose.

Whether a slip on the ice causes an ankle sprain, or a quick stop in a soccer game results in severe knee pain, injuries and treatment plans for bones and joints can be complex and highly individualized. Seeing an orthopedist quickly is the only way to embark on an appropriate course of treatment.

“People either get over-treated or under-treated before they actually see an orthopedist,” said David Lustenberger, MD, a sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon with OrthoCincy Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. “Most physicians do a great job of diagnosing acute injuries, and that’s appropriate for initial care. However, it’s important to get to an orthopedist quickly after that, to make sure the right care plan is arranged.”

A wait-and-see approach is never recommended by orthopedists, because sometimes the best path to healing is motion and physical therapy. In other cases, immobilization or stabilization is what’s right. No two injuries are the same.

“We want to make sure we get patients the right tools to heal, whatever those might be,” Dr. Lustenberger said “It’s best to see an orthopedist who can see you through to a full recovery. We make a plan that follows patients for the whole treatment course.”

Injuries never happen when it’s convenient, and sometimes a trip to the emergency room or urgent care facility is in order. That visit can’t (and shouldn’t) replace a consultation with an orthopedist.

“Being evaluated at a facility that handles the whole spectrum of medical emergencies is not ideal for continuing care,” said Dr. Lustenberger. “The primary focus for those facilities is first, making sure there is no threat to life or limb, and second, ensuring people don’t do further harm to themselves. Those healthcare providers may not specifically focus on the long-term outcome for the patient.”

Time is always a factor

In the case of a minor shoulder injury, doctors often will put a patient’s arm in a sling and tell them not to move it until they feel better. If there is pain, the patient then resists moving the joint, which causes other problems down the road.

Sometimes a fracture is left to heal on its own. A few weeks later, when pain is still present, the patient finally sees an orthopedist, who informs him or her that surgery is now the only option for repair. Visiting a specialist right away to set the break for proper healing could prevent that.

Obtaining an appointment with a specialist often can be daunting, and it may take several weeks before you can be added to a physician’s schedule. 
“If you can’t be seen [by a specialist] for days, or even weeks, it creates anxiety, on top of the stress caused by being in pain,” said Dr. Lustenberger. “And it doesn’t help to delay proper evaluation, of course. It’s always good to be seen more quickly, so the appropriate diagnosis can be made, and a treatment plan can be put into place.”

Fortunately, OrthoCincy structures physicians’ schedules to accommodate new patients quickly, often seeing them the same or next day.

“The quicker they can see us, the quicker they can be on the right track for the treatment course they need to make a recovery,” said Dr. Lustenberger. “There’s no downside to going in and getting a diagnosis. If you’re in bad shape, not seeking an appointment only delays the healing.”

The bottom line is this: don’t wait to have your injury evaluated by an orthopedist. If you can’t be seen by the first office you call, seek out a doctor who understands the importance of being seen quickly and makes time in their schedule, so you can receive the best possible care.

To be added to Dr. Lustenberger’s schedule right away call (513) 793-3933.

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