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Getting Active and Staying Busy As We Return to “Normal”

Don’t let aches and joint pain slow you down.

With some COVID-19 restrictions loosening up and temperatures climbing, many of us are itching to get outside and get moving. Aches and pains that come when you enthusiastically return to your favorite activities often resolve with some rest and moderation. However, if pain persists, x-rays or more advanced medical imaging may determine if a nagging twinge needs special treatment.

“Joint pain is tricky, and it can affect people regardless of age or activity level,” said Dr. William Vanarthos, a musculoskeletal radiologist at Wake Radiology UNC REX. “Sometimes joints hurt from renewed use, overuse or sports-related injuries. Other times it’s from trauma or chronic conditions like arthritis. The good news is that we actually have a lot of tools to treat joint pain.”

Simple remedies like rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications are often the first lines of defense when alleviating temporary aches. Regular or flaring pain in your knees, hips, shoulders or wrists that keep you from participating in daily chores or favorite past times could mean it’s time to talk with your primary care doctor. An image-guided joint injection – where medication is delivered right to the center of the pain – may help ease protracted discomfort.

“Joint injections can provide almost immediate relief for many patients,” said Vanarthos. “This treatment can help improve a patient’s range of motion allowing them to participate in physical therapy or activities that were too difficult before. Relief can last for several months, even for non-curable conditions like arthritis.”

Image-guided joint injections can have better outcomes than traditional joint injections. Without image guidance, injections are solely based on a doctor’s knowledge of anatomy and rely on the patient having a sensation called a “loss of resistance” when the needle enters the joint. This approach may work fine for larger joints like the knee. However, for other joints that are deeper, more narrow, smaller or degenerated, imaging guidance becomes important.

Vanarthos explains that image-guided joint injections ensure that medicine is truly inserted directly into the joint. Being able to “see inside” also helps the doctor make simple adjustments during the procedure so that it can be as swift and effective as possible. With imaging guidance, the doctor doesn’t have to trust a patient’s sensation and can use a smaller needle which is more comfortable.

Patients may be surprised just how quickly they get relief and can return to favorite activities after a joint injection procedure. For acute injuries or inflammatory conditions, a single, well-placed injection may do away with symptoms altogether. For more chronic conditions, like arthritis where symptoms are being managed, injections can help relieve pain to provide a better quality of life. Vanarthos says that one injection typically helps with pain relief for three-four months. If needed, you could have three-four injections a year.

“I always tell patients to talk with their doctor about joint pain,” Vanarthos said. “If you’ve had an injury, some persistent aggravation or even arthritis, a joint injection could bring immediate and long-term relief that changes your ability to be active and improves how you approach day-to-day activities.”

Wake Radiology UNC REX offers joint injections at our West Raleigh office. Learn more at WakeRad.com or schedule an appointment by calling 919-232-4700.

Dr. William Vanarthos is a musculoskeletal radiologist at Wake Radiology with special clinical interests in musculoskeletal and emergency radiology. He is board-certified in diagnostic radiology by the American Board of Radiology and is a member of the American College of Radiology, Radiological Society of North America, and NC Medical Society.

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