What is an orthopedic doctor?

Orthopedic doctors are doctors who focus on caring for your bones, joints, ligaments, nerves, and tendons (the tissue that connects bones and joints). These parts of your body are also referred to as your “musculoskeletal system.”

An orthopedic surgeon treats any kind of musculoskeletal issue, such as a broken bone, sprain or strain, or arthritis. This type of doctor often has an area of expertise – some may specialize in spine care, some treat the arms and shoulders, while others may focus on hip and knee replacement surgery.

Every orthopedic physician has had many years of specialized training, including medical school, residency, and usually also a fellowship. Whereas general surgeons handle all types of surgery as necessary, an orthopedist works on the musculoskeletal system and is deeply familiar with the intricacies of the bones and muscles.

The field of orthopedics is growing rapidly, and these surgeons know the latest techniques and technologies for treating these injuries. Some of the biggest reasons why you would want to see an orthopedic surgeon include sports injuries, overuse injuries, joint pain, and arthritis.

When to See an Orthopedist

If you are having difficulty using a part of your body due to pain or stiffness, or if you have suffered any type of soft-tissue injury (muscle, tendon, or ligament) that is not improving, an orthopedist can help you heal. This is the type of doctor who will have you feeling better and moving more efficiently as quickly as possible, without unnecessary tests or extra wait time.

Orthopedic treatment may be as simple as physical therapy or as complex as a full hip or knee replacement. Many orthopedists work in a group practice and therefore have multiple orthopedic surgeons who specialize in treating certain areas of the body.

A benefit of an orthopedic group practice is that it may also have physical therapists and nurses. The orthopedic surgeon will work as a team with the physical therapists and other providers in order to get the patient back to feeling more pain-free and mobile again.

But orthopedic doctors treat a wide range of problems beyond sports injuries. People see orthopedic doctors to get advanced treatment for these problems:

  • back pain
  • arthritis
  • fractures
  • broken bones
  • torn ligaments & muscles
  • muscle strains & sprains
  • work injuries
  • bone tumors
  • age-related conditions like osteoporosis

Conditions Orthopedists Treat

Orthopedic surgeons treat all sorts of musculoskeletal issues, including:

  • Backache
  • Work injury
  • Sports injury
  • Pinched nerve
  • Arthritis
  • Strain (tendon or muscle injury)
  • Sprain (ligament injury)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Joint injury
  • Bone trauma and broken bones
  • Sciatica pain
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Loss of strength

Orthopedic surgeons can perform total joint replacement, such as new hips, knees, and shoulders. Following some type of trauma, it is best to see an orthopedist rather quickly, before the body has a chance to create potentially debilitating scar tissue inside the injury.

Treatments Orthopedic Surgeons Use

In addition to performing surgery, orthopedists also use a variety of other methods – and they always try the least invasive technique possible. Orthopedic physicians can provide shots to help relieve aching joints and nerve ablation for pain.

They also may recommend physical therapy as a precursor to surgery, or for rehabilitation after it. A group orthopedic practice can also offer nurse practitioners and physician assistants who can help with prescriptions and can answer your questions.

Do Orthopedic Doctors Have to Perform Surgery?

It’s a common misconception that orthopedic doctors always recommend surgery to treat bone and joint problems.

In most cases, surgery is a last resort.

Instead, your orthopedic doctor will most likely recommend non-surgical treatments like:

  • rest
  • physical therapy or rehab
  • medications/injections
  • lifestyle change (when your doctor helps you find other activities that don’t aggravate your injury)

WHAT TO EXPECT AT AN ORTHOPEDIC APPOINTMENT

During your appointment, your orthopedic doctor will ask you about your physical activity habits as well as any pain or discomfort you have. Your orthopedic doctor’s goal is to understand how your day-to-day habits may be affecting your pain, and how you’ve been managing it so far.

Then, your doctor will review your medical history by looking at any past tests you’ve had. Your doctor may also order X-rays, blood tests, or other tests.

Your doctor’s goals are to:

  • correctly diagnose your problem,
  • decrease your pain, and
  • help you get back to activities you love, like gardening or biking.

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