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What Does an Orthopedic Specialist Do?

Orthopedic specialists treat problems of the bones and joints.
An orthopedic specialist will diagnose and treat any medical issues related to the human skeleton.
An orthopedic specialist may work at a hospital or independent surgical facility.
An orthopedic specialist may care for patients with broken bones.
An orthopedic specialist may treat knee injuries.
Some orthopedists specialize in podiatry, which treats the foot, ankle and lower leg.
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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2014
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An orthopedic specialist, also commonly referred to as an orthopedist or orthopedic surgeon, diagnoses and attempts to remedy medical problems related to the human skeleton, joints, tendons and ligaments. She may also treat disorders related to the nervous system that are related to the spine. The medical problems she addresses may be the result of birth defects, injury or aging. The specialist may treat the ailments with physical or drug therapy. Surgery is also a common option to solve some orthopedic problems.

Some orthopedic specialists maintain a general medical practice but most specialize in one specific area of orthopedics. These specialties commonly include spinal disorders, arthroscopy and joint replacement, and hand surgery. Most practices do not discriminate between acute and chronic disorders.

An orthopedic specialist frequently works exclusively in the field of trauma medicine, limiting their treatment to patients in emergency rooms or trauma clinics. A significant number of these specialists are found in the area of sports medicine. More diversified orthopedic specialists work in a wide range of medical environments including podiatry, geriatrics, pediatrics and plastic surgery.

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Treatment options for orthopedic patients are extensive. Recommendations usually depend on the nature of the injury, deformity or disease. Many cases focus on sprains, strains or bone dislocation or breakage. Fewer cases are more complicated and may require multiple types of treatments and approaches. The orthopedic specialist may commonly recommend joint replacement, reconstructive surgery or traction. Spinal fusion or amputation may be among the options. Other typically suggested treatments include fasciotomy, bone grafts or kneecap removal.

In recent years, an orthopedic specialist has been able to help many of her patients through use of prosthetics and connective devices and tools. Advances in metallurgy and plastics have resulted in the production of medically specialized fasteners, such as tongs, pins, wires and screws. These help keep damaged bones in alignment and aid in the replacement of damaged connective tissues and bones.

Besides working in private practice, an orthopedic specialist can often find employment on the staff of an independent surgical facility, in trauma or medical centers or at a hospital. She usually works with a surgical team that includes a surgical nurse and an anesthesiologist. Based on the nature of the treatment, orthopedic surgery can be performed under local, regional or general anesthesia.

The word orthopedics is the fusion of two Greek words. Ortho, which means straight, and pais, which means child, make up the root word. This term originated because the first orthopedic specialists almost exclusively treated children who had skeletal deformities. These specialists used braces to straighten their bones.

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amypollick
Post 9

@tabbi41: If I had to guess, I'd say it's because the doctor who saw you thought you might need surgery if that metatarsal doesn't heal properly, so you need to have an orthopedist follow your case. That way, if you do end up needing surgery, you won't have to see yet another doctor. The orthopedist will probably be able to do the surgery. He or she will be familiar with your case by then, and can go ahead and get you scheduled and you can get it over with, if it becomes necessary.

tabbi41
Post 8

I am a 41 year old female and since I was 13 have broken my fifth metatarsal in both feet about 11 times in my life, mostly in my right foot. After the third time, I stopped going to a doctor and stopped getting casts.

Two weeks ago, I did it again and again didn't get medical attention, then two nights ago I bent it funny just a little and heard and felt a snap. I had extreme pain, more than ever before, so I did go to the hospital and the X-ray showed an intact break. They put me in a robo boot and on heavy pain meds, then referred me to an orthopedic doctor. Thehey did not say how long I have to wear the boot or why the referral. I had a complete bone scan by my family two years ago), so my question is, why the referral?

anon280267
Post 6

I received a B-12 shot in December 2011. The pain was excruciating, like nothing I had ever felt before. I was receiving the shot once monthly since I had little energy. The nurse hurt me so badly I have not had a shot since 12/11.

I told the doctor and the nurse, who brushed it off as arthritis. It hurts to extend my arm to change the radio. I thought she had broken the needle in my arm and I told the doctor and nurse the same thing. This is worse than a tooth ache. Could this be an orthopedic problem?

julies
Post 5

One of my best friends daughter has played soccer since she was a little girl. She has had to have five arthroscopic surgeries on her knees. Through all these different surgeries, they have come to know their orthopaedic surgeon very well.

She finally gave up playing soccer, but the whole experience has shaped her career. At one time she wanted to be a soccer coach, but has graduated with a degree in physical therapy. She will sure have a good sense of what is involved with orthopedics and the whole healing process.

John57
Post 4

My husband works in construction and has had many knee problems related to his job. His regular doctor referred him to an orthopedic knee specialist who recommends that he have surgery. His symptoms are a combination of trauma to the knees and arthritis.

His doctor advised him the longer he could put off the surgery, the better he was. At his last visit, the doctor said to wait until he couldn't stand the pain any longer before going ahead with the surgery.

I know many people have had good results with knee surgery, and others have still had quite a bit of pain afterward.

golf07
Post 3

My son had a football injury to his back, which also affected his legs. We had many visits with our orthopedic doctor over the course of several months. These visits had such an impact on my son, that because of them he decided he wanted to go to medical school and pursue a career in orthopedics.

The visits with the doctor, combined with physical therapy made a big difference and he has full range of motion without pain. My son was fascinated with the whole process, and is still continuing his education with that goal in mind.

anon141650
Post 2

i am a pregnant women and i have a problem in my right leg. It is on the knee side and it gives me lot of trouble to walk. i can't walk properly so can you suggest to me what to do?

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