What is orthopedics?
Orthopedics is a medical specialty that focuses on the body’s musculoskeletal system. Therefore, orthopedic surgeons work on the bones, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves that allow us to move, work and function.
This type of medicine involves diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and prevention of any injuries or disorders relating to the musculoskeletal system. These injuries may be fractures of the bones, dislocations of the joints, sprains and strains.
Other conditions an orthopedist can treat are:
- Muscle damage
- Spine disorders such as sciatica, scoliosis and ruptured discs
- Bone tumors
- Cerebral palsy
- Abnormalities like club foot, bow legs, knock knees, hammertoes and bunions
More than 28 million Americans develop a musculoskeletal problem each year. Besides the previously mentioned conditions and injuries, many orthopedic patients see an orthopedic doctor for general pain they are experiencing in a limb, a joint, the back, etc. The doctor can then diagnose a condition or provide tips for treating the general pain.
Common procedures performed by an orthopedic surgeon
While not all patients need surgery, it is common for orthopedic surgeons to perform procedures including:
- Arthroscopy: This procedure entails the use of special cameras to view and diagnose problems within a joint.
- Osteotomy: In this procedure, bone deformities are corrected by cutting and repositioning the bones.
- Internal fixation: This is a technique in which metal plates, pins or screws are used to hold the broken bone in place while it heals.
- Fusion: Doctors use this method to weld or fuse together broken bones so they will heal as one solid bone.
- Soft tissue repair: This treatment involves mending soft tissue including ligaments and tendons.
- Joint replacement: As the name suggests, joints are replaced during this procedure. Joints that have been damaged or affected by arthritis are replaced with a prosthetic.
Many patients visit an orthopedic surgeon and do not need any type of surgery. This is very common. In these cases, it is typical for an orthopedist to treat the condition or injury with activity modification or physical therapy.
It is common for an orthopedic surgeon to specialize in a particular area like the spine, foot and ankle, hip, hand, shoulder and elbows, or knee for example.
An orthopedist can also specialize in any of the following practices and procedures:
- Joint replacement
- Muscular oncology
- Reconstructive surgery
- Sports medicine
In the United States, orthopedic surgeons must complete high levels of education. They go to four years of undergraduate college followed by four years of medical school. Then, they partake in five years of residency training in orthopedic surgery. These doctors may complete additional training and further education to specialize in their practice.