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Do aches and pains mean anything serious?

Aches and pains. These are what the majority of people who walk into my clinic complain of. More often than not their aches and pains point to underlying disease or injury that when treated appropriately alleviates these symptoms. But we get aches and pains all the time, so what are the indicators that we need a professional opinion? I’ve listed 5 situations where aches and pains may need to be evaluated by a doctor.

History of Trauma

Significant trauma leading to aches and pains are always a cause for concern. A twisted knee or ankle at a ball game may cause significant ligament damage. A fall onto an outstretched hand can lead to fractures or dislocations. Even a fall onto your buttocks on a wet floor may cause spinal compression fractures or vertebral disc injuries.

Associated Symptoms and Signs

Associated symptoms to look out for are nerve symptoms, joint symptoms, and circulatory symptoms.

Nerve symptoms such as tingling, numbness or weakness always signify nerve injury. Neck pain or back pain with associated nerve symptoms down the arm or leg respectively can be caused by slipped discs in the spine. Limb injuries associated with nerve symptoms also signify nerve injury.

Joint symptoms include stiffness, instability or clicking or clunking joint noises. Joint stiffness is most often caused by joint swelling; knee joint stiffness may be caused by damaged and displaced cartilage within the injured joint. Knee instability, a sensation of the knee wanting to or actually giving way, may be caused by ligament injuries. Clicking and clunking occurring in the shoulder may reflect tendon tears, in the knee they may point to loose fragments or torn cartilage. Joint arthritis can present with a combination of these; pain, swelling, stiffness and clunking.

Interference with Activities

Any ache or pain that adversely affects function is serious enough to warrant professional advice. Divide your activities into daily activities, work activities and recreational activities, and then ask yourself how many of these three are affected. If all three, see a doctor soon.

Duration of Aches and Pains

Minor aches and pains usually resolve on their own after a few days, a week at most. Any symptom that lasts longer than a week should be evaluated by a health professional.

When in Doubt

At the end of the analysis, whenever you have aches and pains and you’re not sure if you need professional advice, always err on the side of caution and see a doctor. There are many situations where early mismanagement of a seemingly minor ache can lead to long term disability.