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Dr Duncan

Small pains that need quick attention

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It’s often said that “Squeaky wheels get oiled first”: and that goes for your health too! If you break a leg, have a motor vehicle accident or chest pain, then the best thing to do is to call an ambulance and you will get world class care in the fastest possible time. But then there are other, less painful problems that we often “put up with” but which should really be attended to if it weren’t for the bother of having to make outpatient appointments and then wait your turn to get “it” fixed.

From personal experience I can still vividly remember the time when I decided that I should paint the ceilings at our home. We’d lived there for 15 years at that time and there was a definite need for a coat of paint all around. However, ceilings are more of a challenge as it’s constant work above your head and by the time I’d finished I had a crick in my neck, but even more painful was a troubling pain in my shoulder. What I had developed is known as “impingement” of a tendon where it had been squeezed between two bones leading to inflammation; this had led to a situation where something had to give - my tendon - which was beginning to fray at the edges!

The physio tried his best for some weeks but it was not improving, and it’s amazing how limiting it is to only have one useful arm: try turning over in bed and pulling up the sheets at the same time - a manoeuver destined to cause pain and keep you awake! I went to see an orthopaedic surgeon who suggested that in order to preserve the tendon I should have “decompression” surgery. He could “fit me in next week” as I had insurance and so I was able to save the tendon and regain full use of the shoulder in the fastest possible time.

“Glue ear” is an odd term that many parents of young children have heard of. It happens when their toddlers suffer recurrent, painful ear infections that result in a debris of glue-like substance behind the ear drum. This has the effect of dulling the child’s hearing which, for the parents of all toddlers, can lead to increased exasperation when trying to get the little “darlings” to do as they are told! But impaired hearing in infants can have a serious impact on the rest of their lives as it can also lead to delayed speech and increased learning difficulties, so although “Glue Ear” sounds benign, it is a condition that merits serious attention. Fortunately, there is a simple surgical technique - the insertion of a tube, or grommet in the ear drum - that allows the fluid to clear away and for the drum to be able to vibrate freely resulting in normal hearing. Again, this is not seen as an urgent health issue, but one that all parents would like to have fixed as soon as possible so that their child’s hearing and speech is not impeded.

If infants have their special needs, so too do the older generations. Many patients suffer from what is termed “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome”. This often starts as a feeling of pins and needles in the hand which is worse at night and which if left untreated can lead to numbness of the thumb and nearby fingers. Although Carpal Tunnel Syndrome doesn’t sound serious, imagine trying to pick anything up with numb fingers, or trying to do buttons up on your shirt - suddenly, in trying to do the little things, life can become a whole lot more difficult. CTS is caused when the main nerve to the hand, the median nerve, is slowly being crushed between bone and ligament at the level of the wrist. Sometimes it will settle of its own accord, but in most cases surgery is the only way to release the pressure and save the nerve from permanent damage. Fortunately, the surgery is simple and quick and gives excellent results as long as the surgery has not been left for too long.

And at the other end of the body, our feet take a huge amount of “hammering”  throughout our lives and rarely cause any problems, but when they do, they can turn your whole life upside down with pain and discomfort! Bunions, hammer toes, Morton’s neuromas are all painful conditions of the foot that if not correctly managed - and this nearly always means surgery - then the problem will only deteriorate and affect quality of life, mobility and often one’s temper too! Again, these are not life threatening situations, but ones that can and should be treated quickly before they become chronic pain situations.

All the health issues I’ve mentioned need hospital treatment, because they need specialist care. The fantastic thing about having private health insurance is that you can get these conditions seen to by your specialist at a time that is right for you, and for most of us that is sooner rather than later!

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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