If you’ve ever broken a bone or dislocated a joint, chances are the doctor who treated you was an orthopedic surgeon. But what is an orthopedic surgeon exactly? Orthopedic doctors, also called orthopedic surgeons, are medical specialists who prevent, diagnose and treat issues with the musculoskeletal system, or in other words, bones, joints, ligaments, nerves, and tendons. Orthopedic doctors treat patients of all ages. They are consulted when a patient is injured or has a chronic condition like arthritis.

Let’s take a further look into what orthopedic surgeons do, the conditions they treat, and the education and training they undergo.

What Do Orthopedic Doctors Do?

Orthopedic doctors diagnose and treat problems in the musculoskeletal system, develop a rehabilitation plan, and come up with strategies to prevent injury or chronic conditions from worsening. Different orthopedic doctors further specialize in treating different areas of the body. For example, pediatric orthopedists deal with bone growth problems in children, like scoliosis, or developmental problems at birth, like clubfoot or hip dysplasia. Some subspecialty areas of orthopedics include:

  • Spine
  • Hip and Knee
  • Hand
  • Shoulder and Elbow
  • Foot and Ankle
  • Sports Medicine
  • Trauma Surgery

What Conditions Do Orthopedic Surgeons Treat?

Orthopedic doctors are mainly consulted by patients experiencing pain or if they have injuries caused by physical activity or sports. Some conditions treated by orthopedic specialists are:

  • Back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Fractures
  • Broken bones
  • Torn Ligaments and Muscles
  • ACL tears
  • Muscle strains and sprains
  • Work Injuries
  • Bone tumors
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Limb abnormalities, such as clubfoot and bowlegs
  • Age-related conditions like Osteoporosis
  • Bone Cancer

Some of these injuries may be treated by a general physician, but in most cases a specialist in orthopedics is required because they are specifically trained to treat musculoskeletal problems.

What Kind of Treatment Do Orthopedic Doctors Prescribe?

Orthopedic surgeons may prescribe surgical or non-surgical treatments, depending on the condition of the injury. Some non-surgical treatments are:

  • Exercises: Orthopedic doctors may prescribe specific exercises or stretches to help improve the strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the affected part of the body.
  • Immobilization: Immobilization techniques such as braces, splints or casts, help prevent unnecessary strain on the particular body part.
  • Medications: Certain medications, like over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatory medicines, help relieve pain and swelling.
  • Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle changes, such as altering physical activity or diet, prevent aggravation of an injury.

Some surgical treatments that orthopedic doctors prescribe are:

  • Joint replacement: Joint replacement surgery is recommended when the parts of a damaged joint need to be replaced. Examples include knee replacement and hip replacement surgery.
  • Internal fixation: Internal fixation involves placing hardware such as pins, screws, plates, and rods to speed up the process of healing broken bones.
  • Fusion: Fusion is when two bones are fused together with the help of bone graft material in combination with internal fixation. The bones fuse as the bone tissue heals. This technique is often used in neck and spine surgery.
  • Osteotomy: Osteotomy involves cutting a part of a bone and then repositioning it. This type of surgery is sometimes used to treat arthritis.
  • Soft tissue repair: This kind of surgery is recommended when severely damaged muscles, ligaments, or tendons need to be repaired.
  • Release surgery: This type of surgery is prescribed to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.

What Kind of Training Do Orthopedic Doctors Undergo?

An orthopedic surgeon typically undergoes 14 years of education and training. First, they complete four years of an undergraduate program, followed by four years of medical school. Then they complete five years of residency in orthopedics, and then one year of fellowship in one of the subspecialty areas.

An orthopedic doctor must also pass a certifying examination given by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery. They must renew their certification every ten years by undertaking continuing education courses as well as exams.

Musculoskeletal conditions and pain can occur at any time in a person’s life, irrespective of age. Therefore, orthopedic surgeons are needed to treat patients of all ages, from a child with scoliosis to a person with traumatic injuries requiring limb-saving surgery. These types of doctors help people alleviate pain and lead a more productive life.