A medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, correction, prevention, and treatment of patients with musculoskeletal deformities – which includes injuries of the bones, ligaments, tendons, joints, muscles, nerves and skin. These tissues all encompass the musculoskeletal system.
The body’s musculoskeletal system consists of a complex system of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves that allow you to work, move and participate in activities. Once devoted only to the care of children with specific spine and bone deformities, orthopedics now cares for patients of any age, all the way from newborns with clubfeet, young adults requiring arthroscopic surgery, and older patients suffering from arthritis.
Physicians specializing in this area of medicine carry the title of orthopedic surgeons or orthopedists.
The Role of the Orthopedist
Orthopedists may use other medical, physical and rehabilitative methods as well as surgery and may participate in all aspects of healthcare pertaining to the musculoskeletal system. Few medical subspecialties contain a similar breadth and variety. Orthopedists can treat a wide variety of conditions and diseases, including fractures, torn ligaments, dislocations, pulled muscles and bursitis rupture disks, sprains and strains tendon injuries, bow legs, sciatica, low back pain, and scoliosis knock knees, bunions and hammer toes, arthritis and osteoporosis, bone tumors, club foot and unequal leg length abnormalities of the fingers and toes, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, and growth abnormalities.
In general, when seeing an orthopedist, they will:
- Diagnose your injury or disorder
- Treat your injury with a variety of medication, exercise, surgery or some combination of those
- Assist in Rehabilitation by recommending exercises or physical therapy to restore movement, strength and function to the patient
- Inform the patient with treatment plans to prevent further injury and slow the progression of diseases
Usually, an orthopedist can devote as much as 50 percent of their practice to non-surgical or conservative management of injuries or disease and the other 50 percent to surgical management. Patients may require surgery to restore lost function resulting from injury or disease of the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves or skin.
Orthopedists also work closely with other healthcare professionals and often serve as consultants to other physicians. Orthopedists sit on teams that can manage complex, multi-system traumas, and often play important roles in the organization and delivery of emergency injury care.
While most orthopedists practice general orthopedics, some specialize in treating a specific area of the body such as the foot, hand, shoulder, spine, hip, knee, and others in pediatrics, trauma or sports medicine. Some orthopedists may specialize in multiple areas.
Orthopedic patients benefit from many technological advances such as joint replacement, and arthroscopy that allows a surgeon to examine the inside of a joint without needing to surgically expose it. But your visit will start with a personal interview and a physical examination. Your Doctor may follow up by ordering diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-rays, or others.
Your treatment may involve a combination of counseling, medications, casts, splints, and physical therapies such as exercise, and finally, surgery. For most orthopedic conditions, more than one form of treatment can effectively serve the patient . Your orthopedist will discuss the treatment options with you and help you select the best treatment plan to enable you to live a more active and pain-free life.