Conference Coverage

‘Where does it hurt?’: Primary care tips for common ortho problems



Treating knee pain

Treatment will vary depending on the underlying etiology of pain. For a possible meniscus tear, the recommendation is for a conservative intervention with ice, ibuprofen, knee immobilizer, and crutches, with a follow-up appointment in a week.

Three types of injections also can help:

  • Cortisone for osteoarthritis or meniscus tears, swelling, and inflammation, and prophylaxis against inflammation.
  • Viscosupplementation (intra‐articular hyaluronic acid) for chronic, baseline osteoarthritis symptoms.
  • Regenerative therapies (platelet-rich plasma, stem cells, etc.) are used primarily for osteoarthritis (these do not regrow cartilage, but some patients report decreased pain).

The data on injections are mixed, Dr. Nakamoto said. For example, the results of a 2015 Cochrane review on cortisone injections for osteoarthritis reported that the benefits were small to moderate at 4‐6 weeks, and small to none at 13 weeks.

“There is a lot of controversy for viscosupplementation despite all of the data on it,” he said. “But the recommendations from professional organizations are mixed.”

He noted that he has been using viscosupplementation since the 1990s, and some patients do benefit from it.

Shoulder pain

The most common causes of shoulder pain are adhesive capsulitis, rotator cuff tears and tendinopathy, and impingement.

As with knee pain, the same assessment routine largely applies.

First, pinpoint the location: Is the trouble spot the lateral shoulder and upper arm, the trapezial ridge, or the shoulder blade?

Next, assess pain on movement: Does the patient experience discomfort reaching overhead or behind the back, or moving at the glenohumeral joint/capsule and engaging the rotator cuff? Check for stiffness, weakness, and decreased range of motion in the rotator cuff.

Determine if the cause of the pain is traumatic or atraumatic and stems from an acute injury versus degeneration or overuse.

As with the knee, imaging is a major component of the assessment and typically involves the use of x-ray. An MRI may be required for evaluating full- and partial-thickness tears and when contemplating surgery.

MRI also is necessary for evaluating cases of acute, traumatic shoulder injury, and patients exhibiting disability suggestive of a rotator cuff tear in an otherwise healthy tendon.

Some pain can be treated with cortisone injections or regenerative therapies, which generally are given at the acromioclavicular or glenohumeral joints or in the subacromial space. A 2005 meta-analysis found that subacromial injections of corticosteroids are effective for improvement for rotator cuff tendinitis up to a 9‐month period.

Surgery may be warranted in some cases, Dr. Nakamoto said. These include adhesive capsulitis, rotator cuff tear, acute traumatic injury in an otherwise healthy tendon, and chronic (or acute-on-chronic) tears in a degenerative tendon following a trial of conservative therapy.

A version of this article first appeared on


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