When you’re in pain or have any type of healthcare situation, who’s the first medical professional you turn to? For many people, it’s their primary care physician. After all, your primary care doctor can usually diagnose your condition and set you on the right course.
If they cannot, he or she can refer you to the appropriate specialist who can. But when it comes to dealing with osteoarthritis, or any of the numerous arthritis-related conditions for that matter, your primary doctor can play a significant role in identifying and treating the ailment.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. A progressive disorder that stems from the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the joints, OA involves the entire joint, including the joint lining, ligaments, and underlying bone. Besides reducing joint mobility, osteoarthritis also causes pain, stiffness, and weakness, all of which can have a negative impact on your ability to perform routine tasks.
The role of a primary care doctor in this case is to initiate treatment. Let’s say, for example, you are suffering from knee osteoarthritis. Depending on the severity of your pain or discomfort, your primary care physician will recommend conservative measures, such as losing weight, exercising, and quitting smoking to help reduce strain on your joints.
Your primary doctor will also discuss preventive strategies with you, such as which activities to avoid or limit, how to make your home safe to reduce the risk of accidental falls, or how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
If your condition requires specialized medical care, your primary care doctor can refer you to other healthcare providers, such as:
- A rheumatologist – This is a specialist who has advanced training in arthritis and related musculoskeletal conditions. Your primary care doctor will consult with a rheumatologist if uncertain about the type of arthritis you have or if you need ongoing specialty evaluation and treatment. In any case, your primary care doctor and the rheumatologist will share information so that both have a thorough understanding of your health.
- A registered dietitian – Your primary care doctor may enlist the services of a registered dietitian to create an anti-inflammatory and/or weight-loss diet that can help relieve the stress on your joints and help you avoid deficiencies linked to osteoarthritis.
- An orthopedic surgeon – Specializing in musculoskeletal issues, including osteoarthritis and injuries, an orthopedist is trained to perform surgery on joints, bones, and muscles. So, if your joints are damaged and you need to undergo a surgical procedure, your primary care physician will refer you to a qualified orthopedist for treatment.
- A physical therapist (PT) – If your primary care physician feels there is therapeutic value to it, he or she will refer you to a certified PT. Utilizing common passive treatments (such as cold therapy, heat therapy, or hydrotherapy) and common active treatments (such as strengthening and flexibility exercises), physical therapy can help reduce the pain, swelling, and stiffness of osteoarthritis, and help improve joint function.
In a nutshell, your primary care physician serves an important function as the gatekeeper to a team of qualified specialists who are dedicated to providing you with effective treatment. For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors, please call Intercoastal Medical Group in Sarasota and Manatee County, Florida or request an appointment online.