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What is an Orthopedic Surgeon?

Orthopedic Surgeons are physicians who specialize in providing care to patients with conditions or injuries that affect the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.

These structures all work together to make up what is called the musculoskeletal system. It is this system of the body that allows you to move and perform activities. Without the complex and coordinated efforts of your bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, you would not be able to perform any daily activities that require movement, whether that means getting out of bed, typing on a keyboard, going on a run, or playing sports like football or lacrosse.


Because the musculoskeletal system is so complex and has so many moving parts, conditions that affect any part of the system can potentially affect the surrounding structures. Conditions and diseases can act like a wrench thrown into the works, because if left untreated or allowed to worsen, some conditions can turn normal movement into a painful or even impossible ordeal.

Overview

Orthopedic surgeons may be medical doctors, meaning they have an M.D., or they may be doctors of osteopathic medicine, meaning they have a D.O. Both degree titles require the same certifications and post-medical school training to specialize in orthopedic surgery.

After completing medical school, doctors who aim to become orthopedic surgeons must graduate from an orthopedic surgery residency program. Often, orthopedic surgeons will specialize in a field within orthopedics, like sports medicine or spine surgery. This specialization requires an additional year or more of fellowship training after completing surgical residency.

Orthopedic surgeons often subspecialize in areas within orthopedics, which could include hand surgery, sports medicine, pediatric orthopedics, joint replacement, orthopedic oncology, spine surgery, or foot and ankle.

Typical Conditions Treated

Orthopedic doctors are experts in diagnosing and treating conditions of the musculoskeletal system. This covers a wide range of conditions and injuries, ranging from back pain, joint problems, osteoarthritis, to torn ACL or rotator cuffs and more. Orthopedic surgeons often see patients of all ages, whether it’s children with scoliosis or bone fractures or adults with arthritis or frozen shoulder.

The causes of these conditions often varies. These conditions may be congenital, meaning they were present at birth, or they may be due to trauma, tumors, or infections. Conditions may also be degenerative, meaning that they cause the structures they affect to gradually deteriorate or break down over time. Osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and rotator cuff tears are all examples of conditions that are degenerative. The gradual degeneration of joints and other structures can occur due to gradual wear-and-tear or aging, but it can also occur due to genetics, unhealthy lifestyle choices, repetitive motions or overuse.

Typical Procedures Performed

Orthopedic surgeons often provide more than just surgical care. Orthopedic surgeons perform a wide variety of different procedures in order to diagnose and treat the many different conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system. Conservative, non-surgical treatments are usually the first line of defense against orthopedic conditions. Some conservative treatments your orthopedic doctor may recommend are activity modification, rest, physical therapy, corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Bracing is one example of a nonsurgical treatment for scoliosis.

If conservative measures have no effect over a set time period, your surgeon will consider the various surgical options available. Spinal Fusion is an example of a procedure that may be used to treat lower back pain. Arthroscopic or other image guided procedures, arthroplasty or artificial joint replacements, repair, or reconstruction are some examples of orthopedic procedures.

Advances in surgical technology has meant that orthopedic surgeons have options that can make procedures less invasive than traditional options.

Surgical options depend on the condition and its location and severity, as well as other factors like your medical history and general health. To avoid risks to your safety or potential treatment side effects, your doctor may not recommend certain procedures. Every person’s condition and anatomy are different, so you may not be a candidate for some procedures.

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