Orthopedics is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, correction, prevention, and treatment of patients with skeletal deformities – disorders of the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and skin. These elements make up the musculoskeletal system.
Your body’s musculoskeletal system is a complex system of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves and allows you to move, work and be active. Once devoted to the care of children with spine and limb deformities, orthopedics now cares for patients of all ages, from newborns with clubfeet, to young athletes requiring arthroscopic surgery, to older people with arthritis.
The physicians who specialize in this area are called orthopedic surgeons or orthopedists.
Orthopedists use medical, physical and rehabilitative methods as well as surgery and are involved in all aspects of heath care pertaining to the musculoskeletal system. It is a specialty of incredible breadth and variety. Orthopedists treat a immense variety of diseases and conditions, including fractures and dislocations, torn ligaments, sprains and strains tendon injuries, pulled muscles and bursitis ruptured disks, sciatica, low back pain, and scoliosis knock knees, bow legs, bunions and hammer toes, arthritis and osteoporosis, bone tumors, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, club foot and unequal leg length abnormalities of the fingers and toes, and growth abnormalities.
In general, orthopedists are skilled in the:
Typically, as much as 50 percent of the orthopedist’s practice is devoted to non-surgical or medical management of injuries or disease and 50 percent to surgical management. Surgery may be needed to restore function lost as a result of injury or disease of bones, joint, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves or skin.
The orthopedist also works closely with other health care professionals and often serves as a consultant to other physicians. Orthopedists are members of the teams that manage complex, multi-system trauma, and often play an important role in the organization and delivery of emergency care.
A field known for innovation
Like other branches of medicine, remarkable technological advances have significantly shaped the field of orthopedics in recent years.
While most orthopedists practice general orthopedics, some may specialize in treating the foot, hand, shoulder, spine, hip, knee, and others in pediatrics, trauma or sports medicine. Some orthopedists may specialize in several areas.
Orthopedic patients have benefited from technological advances such as joint replacement, and the arthroscope that allows the orthopedist to look inside a joint. But your visit will start with a personal interview and physical examination. This may be followed by diagnostic tests such as blood tests, X-rays, or other tests.
Your treatment may involve medical counseling, medications, casts, splints, and therapies such as exercise, or surgery. For most orthopedic diseases and injuries, there is more than one form of treatment. Your orthopedist will discuss the treatment options with you and help you select the best treatment plan to enable you to live an active and functional life.
Your orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor with extensive training in the proper diagnosis and treatment of injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system.