Avid surfer and outdoor athlete Nate Lee says he knew his knees were bad, but, for years he put off seeking treatment, fearing it would affect his ability to do the things he loved.

“I kind of got used to the pain, and it got to the point where it was very debilitating,” Lee said.

And at 43 years old, he felt surgery was not a good long-term solution.

“I think a lot of the reason was just the fact I didn't think it was that time in my life to have it because I was so young,” Lee said.

Lee was willing to put up with the pain, rather than give up his active lifestyle.

“It was a huge factor at first until the pain overcame the desire to go do the things I actually love to do,” Lee said.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Danton Dungy, MD says he has heard all of those reasons and more from patients.

In fact, the doctor says, a new survey by Dignity Health show many patients wait far too long before seeking treatment for orthopedic pain.

“A lot of patients worried maybe it is possible I need more than one surgery, or maybe I will have to stay in the hospital too long, or maybe I won't get better,” Dr. Dungy said.

But, he says, waiting actually reduces your chances of a full recovery.

”The best predictor of your range of motion, how well you can bend and straighten your knee after surgery, is how well you straightened and bent it before surgery," Dr. Dungy said.

Dr. Dungy says surgery is never his first option.

“So, for instance, if you have issues and you come in early enough, maybe we advise you on lifestyle changes, possible medication for a limited amount of time, sometimes bracing or physical therapy, sometimes even bracing can help before surgery,” Dr. Dungy said.

Even when surgery is called for, it is often less invasive than patients may believe.

“Or even larger surgeries such as I perform which is joint replacement surgery, which in some situations is an outpatient setting,” says Dr. Dungy.

Lee was amazed how simple it was.

“I was walking the same day,” Lee said.

The doctor says he is also seeing more patients go back to the activities they love.

‘We are discovering maybe we are too restrictive on the activities we have them do after surgery,” Dr. Dungy said.

He says he has patients who play tennis or other sports after surgery.

For Lee, that means surfing, mountain biking even snowboarding are back on his to-do list.

“He said live my life to the fullest,” he says of Dr. Dungy’s instructions. “So I am going to be doing stuff I haven't done since I was 14 years old when I originally injured my knee.”

And, he says he hopes his story helps others realize there is no excuse to live in pain.

“I would have done it years prior, years prior, at least seven or eight years prior,“ Lee said.

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