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Stepping Into Summer

May 26, 2022

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Community Conversation: James C. Wittig, MD

Warmer weather is here, and for many people that means exercising outside, playing sports and enjoying family time. But if your winter was a quiet one, returning to activity too quickly can lead to injuries. How can you tell the difference between a sprained ankle and something that requires a trip to a specialist?

In this Community Conversation on May 26, 2022, James C. Wittig, MD, chairman of the department of orthopedics, Morristown Medical Center, and medical director, orthopedic oncology, Atlantic Health System, answered questions on how a visit with an orthopedic specialist can get you back on your feet and back in the game.

How should I ease my way back into activity in the summer?

After a long winter of relative inactivity, it is important to recognize the state of your health and fitness. Dr. Wittig said that getting back to exercise is a process and you should move slowly at first while you strengthen your muscles and tendons.

“People are a little out of shape, so it’s very important not to just jump in and be a warrior your first time out there. Start your exercising slowly and gradually build up over the course of time so your muscles get stronger and help protect your bones and your joints.”

Is age a factor for joint and bone health?

Dr. Wittig said that as people get older, they tend to be less active and therefore muscles and ligaments can weaken, making people more susceptible to injury. But younger people may engage in more intense and dangerous physical activity that can put them at higher risk for injury. He urged both groups to be careful this summer and all year round.

When should I see an orthopedic specialist for an injury?

According to Dr. Wittig, any injury that causes sustained pain or is swollen should be looked at by a doctor. It is especially important to see an orthopedic specialist if you can’t bear weight on an injury or it hurts when you touch the bone. These could be indications of a sprain or an occult fracture, which is a tiny fracture that is not readily visible. Because it may not be perceptible upon a physical examination or on an initial X-ray, a MRI may be required to detect the extent of the injury.

“If you've got a chronic problem going on or something slowly begins to develop, perhaps because of repetitive stress or you're jogging five miles a day for two weeks straight, and you begin to develop knee pain, well, the general rule is rest, ice, elevate. If something doesn't get better after that, then seek medical attention,” said Dr. Wittig.

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What orthopedic services are offered at Atlantic Health System?

Atlantic Health System offers comprehensive orthopedic, radiology and physical therapy services. At Morristown Medical Center alone, there are more than 100 orthopedic surgeons who perform more than 11,000 procedures a year, making it one of the biggest and busiest orthopedic departments in the country.

Dr. Wittig added, “We have nine different (orthopedic) subspecialties, so there's not an area of the body that we don't cover or a condition that we don't cover from the simplest to the most complex. And naturally we like to bring care closer to home to you.”

Atlantic Health System has full-service centers of care in Paramus, Rockaway, Bridgewater and Clark, New Jersey.

How long is the recovery time from an orthopedic injury?

While in the past, orthopedic injuries and surgeries required extended recovery times, Dr. Wittig said new techniques and technologies have emerged to significantly reduce the recuperation period. Minimally invasive surgeries, robotic surgery, pain management regimens, and physical therapy have all improved and help patients recover quickly so they can return to normal activity.

What role do robots play in orthopedic surgery?

Robots aid the planning and precision of the orthopedic surgery. For instance, Dr. Wittig said a robot is used to perform a CAT scan and the radiological image of a hip or a knee is used to map out the surgery on computer ahead of time.

“We know exactly how much bone we want to cut, exactly what angles we want to cut at so that patients get an outstanding result.” Surgeons use a robotic arm to guide where those cuts are going to be placed.

What is orthopedic oncology and sarcoma surgery?

An orthopedic oncologist is a surgeon who takes out tumors that develop or spread to the muscles in the bones. Sarcoma is a broad term that describes a malignant (cancerous) bone tumor that arises from the bone or a soft tissue. These conditions can occur in both young and adult patients.

Dr. Wittig expressed pride in the team at Atlantic Health System for their expertise in providing highly specialized care.

“At Morristown Medical Center, we're very skilled at performing limb-saving surgery, as opposed to doing amputations for these types of tumors. We have a multidisciplinary approach here where we work very closely with medical and radiation oncologists, and pediatric oncologists. It's incredibly fulfilling.”

What is the best way to manage constant pain from arthritis in the hip or rheumatoid arthritis?

Dr. Wittig recommended conservative, noninvasive treatments to manage the pain of arthritis. He emphasized the importance of keeping your muscles strong to absorb the forces that are inflicted on the joints. This will reduce pain and allow you to be more active. Swimming, walking or treading in water in a pool are low impact ways to build muscle strength and to keep your extremities and joints moving. Those with more severe conditions may be candidates for a hip or a knee replacement.