Resource Center


What are symptoms of common joint injuries?

Symptoms often related to common joint injuries can include pain, swelling, redness and warmth.

Be sure to contact your provider if you experience any of the following:

  • You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint.
  • The injured area looks crooked or has lumps and bumps (other than swelling) that you do not see on the uninjured joint.
  • You cannot move the injured joint.
  • Your limb buckles or gives way when you try to use the joint.
  • You have numbness in any part of the injured area.
  • You see redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury.
  • You injure an area that has been injured several times before.
  • You have pain, swelling, or redness over a bony part of your foot.
  • You are in doubt about the seriousness of the injury or how to care for it.

When should I use ice on an injury?

Immediately after an injury, fluid leaks from blood vessels into the injured area.  Applying ice to the injured tissues helps limit the leakage of fluid from the blood vessels by causing them to constrict or become smaller.  This reduces swelling and limits the amount of inflammation that will occur.  In contrast, heating tissues causes the blood vessels to dilate or enlarge. This dilation can increase the amount of fluid that leaks into the injured tissue.   This increased leakage leads to increased swelling and worsening of inflammation.

Ice is most effective when applied immediately following an injury and during the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury has occurred. An easy way to properly apply ice is to use crushed ice in a plastic bag covered with a moistened towel. Such an application of ice easily conforms to the shape of the injured body part. Alternatively, a bag of frozen vegetables such as peas can be used in the same way. The cold pack should be applied over a moist towel on the injured body part. Apply for 20 minutes and remove for at least 20 to 40 minutes so that the skin is not injured from the icing. Your provider may recommend applications only a few times a day or throughout the day depending on the injury or condition. Do not use ice if the injured area has decreased sensation, poor circulation or an open wound. Seek medical attention.

When should I use heat on an injury?

Heat is not usually recommended during the first 48 to 72 hours after an injury.  The use of heat during that time can dilate or enlarge the blood vessels leading to increased fluid leakage into the area.  This fluid results in increased pain and swelling.  After the first 48 to 72 hours, heat applications can be helpful, especially prior to recovery exercise workouts. The heat can improve blood flow to the area and aid in the recovery process.  Heat provides an additional benefit by relaxing the muscles of the injured area so that workouts can occur as safely as possible.
It’s important to keep in mind that heat can injure the tissues if it is excessively used. It actually can "cook" the skin, causing discoloration. Heat should only be applied for 20 minutes and should not be painful. Your provider may recommend heat application several times a day depending on the situation. Never sleep on a heating pad, as this is a common cause of skin burning. Moist heat by heating pad or direct moisture from hot whirlpool can be effective depending on the injury or disease involved and overall condition of the patient. The elderly should be especially cautious about using a whirlpool for therapeutic purposes and a provider’s advice is recommended.

How do I tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture?

Because, sprains and fractures often share many of the same symptoms, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture. Your provider may need to X-ray the affected area, or conduct other tests to accurately diagnose the injury.

Should I continue to exercise if I have pain?

Pain is often an indicator from your body that it is injured. In many cases, minor discomfort is not a cause for alarm, but if the pain is severe, increases, or persists, be sure to contact your provider.  Continuing to exercise with an injury can worsen the injury and delay recovery or lead to permanent damage.

What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often the result of a combination of factors that increase pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel, rather than a problem with the nerve itself. Some people are born with a carpal tunnel which is small.  This makes them more susceptible to developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Other contributing factors include trauma or injury to the wrist that cause swelling, such as sprain or fracture; over-activity of the pituitary gland; hypothyroidism; rheumatoid arthritis; mechanical problems in the wrist joint; work stress; repeated use of vibrating hand tools; fluid retention during pregnancy or menopause; or the development of a cyst or tumor in the canal. In some cases no specific cause can be identified.

There is little clinical data to prove whether repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and wrist during work or leisure activities can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. However, repeated motions performed in the course of normal work or other daily activities can result in repetitive motion disorders such as bursitis and tendonitis.

What is a recommended treatment for minor orthopedic injuries?

The treatment plan for an orthopedic injury will vary based on the degree of damage to the area. Most minor injuries are initially treated with a strategy known as RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

How will my provider diagnose an injury? Are there special tests?

Your provider will begin by obtaining your medical history and conducting a physical exam. Depending on the findings, your provider may use one or more diagnostic tests to more accurately determine the nature of your injury. Some of the more commonly used tests include X-rays, MRI’s, arthrograms, and ultrasound. Each of these tests can provide different types of information. X-rays identify bone injuries.  MRI’s are very effective at showing injuries to soft tissues such as cartilage and ligaments. Arthrograms allow the structures to be observed while in motion.  Ultrasounds use sound waves to form a high-quality image of the injury and tissues.

What kind of treatment will I need for my injury?

The treatment plan for an injury will vary based on the degree of damage to the area. Most injuries are initially treated with a strategy known as R.I.C.E., which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Your provider may suggest some type of pain medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs, are often used to control the pain and inflammation commonly associated with injuries.  Some injuries may require a splint or cast.  Physical therapy may be helpful to regain strength and mobility.  For severe injuries surgery may be necessary.

Will I need physical therapy for rehabilitation?

Your provider can best determine if physical therapy is right for your treatment. If surgery is required, the physical therapist will work with you before and after surgery to guide you through a program designed to increase your strength and regain your range of motion.  Physical therapy can play an important role to your recovery.

What can I do to prevent an injury?

The key to preventing injury is to maintain good strength, muscle balance and flexibility. Here are a few tips that you may find valuable:

  • Warm-up before doing exercises, playing sports, or participating in any vigorous activities
  • Participate in a conditioning program to build muscle strength
  • Develop a daily ritual of stretching exercises 
  • Listen to your body: never run if you experience pain in the foot, ankle or knee, or you feel fatigued
  • Pay attention to walking, running or working surfaces
  • Wear protective equipment appropriate for the sport or activity that you’re engaged in
  • Replace your athletic shoes as soon as the tread or heel wears out
  • Be sure that all of your shoes fit properly
  • Repetitive motion injuries can be avoided through rest breaks, exercise, proper posture, correct technique, use of protective equipment, and properly designed working environments.

Are there exercises I can do to prevent or help heal an injury?

There are a variety of exercises such as strengthening, isometric, isotonic, and proprioception techniques. Check with your provider to see which of these exercises are appropriate for you to prevent or help heal an injury.  Instructions for a number of exercises are contained within this program.

What is Achilles tendinitis?

Achilles tendinitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon and is almost always caused by overuse.  The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. This tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone and enables people to walk, run and jump.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints causing pain and swelling. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that is often related to aging or to a joint injury. Other types of arthritis can occur when your immune system, which normally protects your body from infection, attacks your body’s own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of this type of arthritis. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a form of the disease that occurs in children. Gout is another type of arthritis, and can be very painful.

What are the warning signs of Arthritis?

The warning signs of arthritis can include:

  • Lasting joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Tenderness or pain when touching a joint
  • Problems using or moving a joint normally
  • Warmth and redness in a joint

If any of these symptoms lasts longer than 2 weeks, be sure to make an appointment to see your provider.

How is arthritis treated?

Each kind of arthritis is treated differently, but there are some common treatment choices. Proper rest, exercise, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and learning the right way to use and protect your joints are key to living with any kind of arthritis.

There are also a variety of medicines that can help with the pain and swelling of arthritis. Acetaminophen can be used to ease arthritis pain. Some NSAIDS, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are sold over the counter, while others require a prescription.

Daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, can help keep joints moving, reduce pain, and strengthen the muscles around your joints.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic joint inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur when your immune system, which normally protects your body from infection, attacks your body’s own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of this type of arthritis.