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What Is an Orthopedic Physician: 6 Things You Need to Know

Orthopedic physicians specialize in treating the musculoskeletal injuries. These include the bones, ligaments, tendons, joints, and muscles that are important for movement and everyday life.

There are more than 200 bones in the human body, so this specialty is in high demand. Orthopedics covers a wide range of conditions, including dislocated joints, hip and back pain, spinal injury, and arthritis — commonly seen among adults.

Joint pain affects nearly everyone at some point in their life, and musculoskeletal injuries are common enough to warrant medical attention.If your injury needs a professional diagnosis and treatment, you need to see an orthopedic doctor.

Even if you don’t do much physical activity, the normal wear and tear from your daily routine can damage your muscle and bone tissue.Musculoskeletal injuries are also caused by spending too much time on the computer, working without breaks, having a bad posture, and repeatedly doing the same movements.

What does an orthopedic physician do

What Does an Orthopedic Physician Do?

Orthopedic doctors, also called orthopedic surgeons, specialize in helping patients with problems with their musculoskeletal system.Their responsibilities include:

  • Identifying and treating conditions that impact your musculoskeletal system.
  • Helping with rehabilitation, which helps you restore your movement, get stronger, have more range of motion, and be more flexible after an injury or surgery
  • Creating effective strategies to keep injuries from happening or chronic conditions like Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries from getting worse.

Even though orthopedic doctors know about all the components of the musculoskeletal system, others choose to specialize further in particular areas. Some subspecialties of orthopedics are the following:

  • Hip and knee
  • Shoulder and elbow
  • Spine
  • Foot and ankle
  • Hand and wrist
  • Medicine for sports
  • Surgery for traumatic injuries

Orthopedic doctors can help get rid of the pain

Manage Pain

There are many injuries and conditions that can cause pain or discomfort in the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic doctors can help reduce or get rid of the pain caused by these injuries. Orthopedic physicians are experts at treating pain in different body parts such as knees, ankles, elbows, feet, hands, neck, shoulders, and back. 

Neck and back pain is usually caused by spine injuries, which is one of the most common injuries in adults. This condition may result from carrying or lifting too much weight, taking a fall, and vehicular accidents. There are different types of spine injuries; some are chronic, while some are life-threatening. Fortunately, there are orthopedic doctors who specialize in this particular type of musculoskeletal condition.

Improve Range of Motion 

Your range of motion can be limited by pain, stiffness, or inflammation in the joints. When this happens, it can be extremely difficult to do everyday activities like taking a shower, bending over, cleaning, and even sleeping. Orthopedic doctors use physical therapy and other forms of treatment to help you get your range of motion back to normal. However, surgery is sometimes a must.

Orthopedic doctors treat and prevent injuries

Treat and Prevent Injuries

Orthopedic doctors treat various kinds of musculoskeletal injuries and conditions. The most common are compression fractures, broken bones, dislocations, stress fractures, tendon tears or ruptures, and muscle strains. Orthopedic specialists can also devise treatment and preventive strategies that can assist patients in avoiding further injuries.

Education and Training

To become an official orthopedic surgeon, you have to go through a lot of training. In fact, an orthopedist in the United States has to go to school and train for up to 14 years.

The first requirement is that the candidates should have finished a four-year undergraduate degree at a college or university. Another four years to complete a program at a medical school. After that, they have to undertake a five-year residency focusing on orthopedics. Once they complete the residency, they can now choose a subspecialization from the areas listed above, which will take another 1-year.

An orthopedic doctor is required to have clinical experience and demonstrate their knowledge by passing a certifying exam in the field of orthopedics.

The American Osteopathic Board of Orthopaedic Surgery or the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery is in charge of giving this exam.

After becoming board-certified, an orthopedic physician must renew their certification every ten years by taking educational courses and passing exams.

What conditions does an orthopedic physician treat

What Conditions Does an Orthopedic Physician Treat?

Orthopedic doctors can diagnose and manage treatments for a wide range of musculoskeletal problems. These includes: 

  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Bone Tumors
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Runner’s Knee
  • Sciatica
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Neurofibromatosis

Even though general practitioners treat some of the same conditions, it may be in your best interest to visit a trained specialist to treat a particular injury or condition.

Orthopedic doctors have a higher level of expertise in treating musculoskeletal issues than primary care physicians.

Several orthopedic doctors specialize even further in particular body parts, such as your hip,  ankle, shoulder, and foot.

Some orthopedic doctors focus only on the treatment of children. Scoliosis, clubfoot, and hip dysplasia are just a few examples of congenital disabilities that pediatric orthopedists watch for in their young patients.

What Types of Procedures Do Orthopedic Physicians Do?

Orthopedics suggest various procedures for the conditions they specialize in. Let’s look at some of them below. 

Types of procedures orthopedic physicians do

Non-surgical Treatments

Also known as conservative treatments, orthopedics usually focus on non-surgical treatments before suggesting going under the knife.

Some non-surgical treatments include the following: 

  • Exercises. Since orthopedics specializes in bone and muscle health, they often suggest exercising or stretching to patients first. These help you maintain or improve your flexibility, strength, and range of motion. 
  • Medication. Orthopedics may suggest pharmaceutical drugs to address symptoms like pain or inflammation. Generally, they recommend OTC medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen to their patients. Meanwhile, orthopedics prescribe prescription medicine like corticosteroids for more severe cases.
  • Immobilization. In some cases, preventing pressure or strain on an area can help it heal. Some immobilization techniques include applying braces, casts, or splints.
  • Lifestyle changes. For long-term improvement, orthopedics suggests that patients change some of their habits. These vary per person but can often include modifying your diet and physical activities. Plus, orthopedics may prohibit you from doing specific exercises to avoid the aggravation of an injury or condition.

Orthopedics surgical treatments

Surgical Treatments 

Orthopedics may suggest surgery if a patient’s condition or injury doesn’t improve from non-surgical treatments. 

Some examples of surgical procedures performed by orthopedic doctors include the following: 

  • Osteotomy. This surgery involves cutting a specific part of a bone and repositioning it. Although orthopedics can perform this for different conditions, they often use it to treat chronic arthritis. 
  • Joint replacement. This surgical procedure involves replacing certain parts of damaged or diseased joints, often secondary to arthritis. Examples of operations include hip or knee replacement surgery. 
  • Fusion. This surgery involves bone graft material and internal fixation. It is often used to treat problems with the neck and spine. These two help link two bones, and as the bone heals, the two bones join together to make one.
  • Internal fixation. This surgical procedure helps hold broken bones in place for smooth healing. It often involves the placement of hardware on bones using screws, pins, plates, or rods. 
  • Release surgery. Usually performed to treat chronic carpal tunnel syndrome, this surgical procedure relieves its symptoms by reducing pressure on the affected hand’s median nerve. 
  • Soft tissue repair. Orthopedics perform this surgery when repairing severely damaged ligaments, tendons, or muscles. 

When to see an orthopedic surgeon

When To See an Orthopedic Surgeon?

One of the most common reasons people seek urgent medical attention from orthopedic doctors is grueling, persistent pain. If you’re experiencing pain that lasts more than three months or one that doesn’t subside with home remedies, consider making an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. 

Here are some signs it’s time to see an orthopedic doctor:

  • You can’t walk without experiencing discomfort or pain. 
  • You’ve developed arthritis on the knee or hip. 
  • You have progressive and persistent knee or hip pain that worsens when you stand up. 
  • You’re experiencing a reduced range of motion. 
  • You can’t live your everyday life without experiencing pain and discomfort. 
  • You’re experiencing chronic pain that’s been lasting for over 12 weeks. 
  • You have a soft tissue injury that hasn’t been healing well for the last couple of days. 

Are you debating if it’s best to go to an orthopedic or if you should see your primary care doctor first? If you think you had a traumatic or repetitive motion injury to your bones, nerves, tendon, and joints, it’s better to go to an orthopedic ASAP. 

Does Insurance and Medicare Cover Orthopedic Treatment?

Since treatment for muscle- and bone-related conditions can be expensive, you’re likely wondering if your insurance can cover it. After all, if they aren’t, you’ll pay high costs that you haven’t planned for!

Generally, insurance plans cover medically necessary care to diagnose or treat specific conditions. Still, it’s better to contact your insurer first to see what’s covered by your policy before visiting an orthopedic specialist. 

On the other hand, some research has shown that individuals with Medicare may have issues accessing timely orthopedic care. It’s a federal health insurance program for older adults ages 65 and above. But it’s also available for other younger groups with chronic health conditions. 

If you want to use your Medicare, you can use tools or apps like the Physician Compare Tool to find orthopedics accepting the program. These allow you to input various information to find orthopedics in your state that accepts Medicare.  

What to expect from an orthopedic specialist

What to Expect from an Orthopedic Specialist?

When arriving at the orthopedic office, their medical team will often ask questions about your pain’s severity, onset, and location. Aside from that, they may also ask about your medical history and activity levels to understand how your pain impacts your daily life.  

Also, orthopedics may order you to perform physical tests to assess the degree of injury and your range of motion. Finally, orthopedics often ask for additional tests like CT scan, MRI, EMG, X-ray, or ultrasound for more severe cases. 

The Bottom Line

Orthopedic physicians diagnose what’s wrong with your muscles, bones, and joints and treat them. Treatments can be non-invasive, like exercise and medicine, or more invasive, like a total knee replacement.

In addition to this, orthopedic doctors can offer assistance with rehabilitation and aid in preventing the symptoms of an existing condition from becoming worse.

You can search an online database similar to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) to discover an orthopedic surgeon or ask your primary care physician for a referral.