The human body is quite resilient, but there is only so much we can go through before our joints and muscles become victims of wear-and-tear, or acute injury. While a minor bruise after a fall or soreness in the muscles are pains that shouldn’t alarm, there are many other aches and complaints that warrant serious medical attention and treatment. If you’ve recently begun feeling pain in any of the areas noted below, be sure to contact your family doctor or book an appointment with a physician.
These five aches and pains may be signs of ligament damage, growing arthritis, injury, nerve damage, and more. If ignored, they may lead to further injury or an untreatable condition. If caught early, treatment may halt or reverse much damage done to the body.
The knee joint joins the thigh and shin and is composed of a series of ligaments inside and around the joint, allowing for full flexion and extension of the leg. Owing to our bipedal nature as humans, our knees are under constant stress whenever we stand or walk and are crucial in performing other basic movements such as lunges, squats, and jumps.
Old age, overuse, obesity, and weight-bearing exercises all pose some danger to the knee by placing more stress upon your ligaments, thus risking damage or, worse yet, complete tearing. While our tendons are incredibly strong, they can only sustain so much pressure, and any shearing forces will considerably weaken them. Tendons work by facilitating the movement of the human skeleton through our muscles, and their strength comes from a densely packed arrangement of collagen. However, like a piece of duct tape, when pulled in the right angle, tendons can tear.
Instability in the knee, pain during movement, swelling, and a loose kneecap are all signs that point towards extensive ligament damage or inflammation (tendinopathy). A torn ligament cannot be easily repaired, but there are ways to reduce further damage, bring stability back to the knee, and utilize a series of surgical interventions and careful rehabilitation to return full mobility and strength to the knee.
The ligament most at risk for tearing in and around the knee is the anterior cruciate ligament (located towards the front of the knee), although other ligaments are also at risk, such as the posterior cruciate ligament (located in the center of the knee), the medial collateral ligament (in the inner knee), and the lateral collateral ligament (on the outer knee). When these injuries happen, it can make walking very difficult. Early treatment is important to minimizing the potential consequences of knee ligament damage.
Low Back Pain
Out of all joint and spine-related injuries, injuries that influence lower back pain are among the most common. While weight on the upper back is distributed among several powerful muscles and supported by the strength and stability afforded by the shoulders, the lumbar portion of the spine is most at risk for developing spinal degeneration, wear-and-tear pain, and other forms of both long-term and short-term damage.
Lower back pain is more than just par-for-the-course on the long road of aging but may hint at potential damage to the cartilage between the vertebrae on the lumbar portion of the spine, or damage to the vertebrae themselves. Most forms of lower back pain are caused by pressure placed upon the many nerves within the spine, by the lack of cushioning between two or more vertebrae.
If you feel sharp or continued pain in the lower back, contact a medical professional right away. Damage to the spine should never be ignored, and any form of acute lower back pain may be the beginning of something much worse if left to its own devices.
Sprained Ankle Pain
Ankle sprains are exceedingly common ligament injuries, with reasons ranging from obesity to sports to poor footing in high heels. As such, they affect individuals of all sizes and ages, and are often not seen as a “big deal”. But while most sprains can be healed through prolonged rest and some ice, ankle sprains are much more dangerous than most would realize.
Too many people simply wait for the pain to subside and continue as before, without the proper treatments or protocols necessary to ensure that the injury remains a one-time occurrence. Instead, roughly 28,000 ankle sprains occur every day in the US, and most of them will occur again.
An ankle sprain leads the way to a chronically unstable ankle due to lack of proper treatment in over 50 percent of cases, causing the ligaments to heal improperly and malform, giving way more often as people age, gain weight, or become sedentary. By refusing to seek treatment for an ankle sprain, thousands of Americans risk chronic injury and the subsequent pain that comes with it.
An injured ligament in the shoulder isn’t all too uncommon, especially in sports and livelihoods that heavily involve upper body movement, from carrying boxes to swinging bats. However, while an injured or torn ligament in the shoulder can heavily impact shoulder mobility and cause you to lose the ability to properly rotate your arm or hold it over your head, shoulder pain might also be indicative of something much more sinister than a joint injury.
Discomfort in the left shoulder, arm, or chest can be indicative of a heart problem, caused by a feeling of immense pressure felt in the left area of the body as a result of circulation issues and potential cardiac arrest. What might feel like a case of heartburn can easily be something much more dangerous, so be sure to call emergency services if the pain travels through your shoulder and arm.
Waiting to treat a shoulder injury can also turn a simple sprain into a chronic issue, alongside a lifelong mobility problem. Regaining painless mobility in the shoulder after serious ligament damage is no easy feat and may require medical intervention. Early treatment can help ensure that invasive options stay off the table.
Wrist and Forearm Pain
What might feel like a simple case of soreness and numbness in the hand and forearm might be a case of damage or compression of the median nerve, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome. If left untreated, pain in the forearm can turn into a minor or even permanent disability as a result of shrinking muscles caused by major damage to your arm’s nerves.
Carpal tunnel syndrome must be treated early with plenty of rest, a splint, and thorough imaging to prevent further damage and potential peripheral neuropathy. Some patients mistake it for tendinopathy of the wrist or a sign of their arthritis and ignore the issue until it becomes much harder to fix.
Some aches can safely be ignored, but some pain must be addressed as soon as possible. Many other forms of pain can indicate potential life-threatening or life-changing problems, including severe stomach or lower torso pain (appendicitis, endometriosis), lower back pain (kidney stones), and sudden explosive headaches (aneurysm).
Other pain might not seem too concerning, but if left untreated can result in permanent damage and long-term disability. Be sure to contact your doctor if you are feeling unwell or are struggling with severe discomfort. And despite its popularity, ‘no pain, no gain’ is not an effective training philosophy when the pain in question involves ligaments and tendons.