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Joint specialist


The purpose of this tool is to help you decide whether or not to see a joint specialist. When making a decision like this, you must balance:

  • The reasons for seeing the joint specialist
  • The potential health risks, drawbacks, or limitations of the specialist
  • Whether there are alternative specialists that may be more appropriate
  • Cost

This tool is not a substitute for professional medical care and advice. Work with your doctor to help you make this decision. A second opinion from another doctor or specialist may be valuable. There is usually no exact “right” or “wrong” answer.

Your physician may make certain recommendations to you. However, the final decision about whether to see a joint specialist rests with you.

What does this specialist do?

Injuries to joints -- such as the knee, hip, elbow, and shoulder -- often need treatment from a joint specialist.

Shoulder joint

A joint specialist can evaluate your injury with the help of MRI, CT scans, and x-ray. Joint specialists are also surgeons who can perform exploratory surgery to look for problem areas inside of joints. They also can perform major operations such as joint replacements.

Hip joint replacement - series
Click the icon to see an illustrated series detailing hip joint replacement.
Knee joint replacement - series
Click the icon to see an illustrated series detailing knee joint replacement.

Joint specialists can prescribe a treatment plan that includes physical therapy and pain-relieving medication. The goal of these health care providers is to help people with joint problems improve their range and motion and joint function to as close to normal as possible.

Key points

  • A joint specialist is an expert in examining ankle, knee, hip, back, and other joint pain.
  • Joint specialists can often diagnose minor problems based on your personal injury history and a physical examination. This can prevent you from having unnecessary tests.
  • Sometimes a physical exam of your joint by the specialist is not enough to diagnose your problem. If so, the joint specialist will probably know the best diagnostic tests that can find the cause of your pain. These tests can include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) , computed tomography (CT scan) , and x-ray.
  • Some injuries require an operation for more invasive testing. If, for example, an MRI does not clearly show the cause of your joint pain, a joint specialist can look directly into the knee with a tiny camera. The specialist can also perform minor repairs to the joint during this operation.
  • Joint specialists can repair major joint damage, such as a torn ligament.
  • Joint specialists can do joint replacement surgery.
  • All surgeries increase the risk of infection or can cause damage that may sometimes lead to long-term pain.

How much time this decision tool will take

  • 5 - 10 minutes

What this tool will provide

  • A personalized list of factors for you to weigh
  • Questions to ask your doctor
  • Alternatives to seeing a specialist
  • Recommended reading

Review Date: 9/12/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

  • Klippel JJ, Ed. Initial evaluation of the adult patient with acute musculoskeletal symptoms and recommendations for the medical management of osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. Arthritis Foundation. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases, 12th edition. 2001.
  • Health Technology Assessment. 2004;8(50):1-106;iii-iv.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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