What is Orthopedic Surgery?

An orthopedic surgeon looking at the X-ray of a patient with joint problems.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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Sometimes referred to as simply orthopedics, orthopedic surgery is the collective term for any type of procedure that has to do with the musculoskeletal system. While referred to as surgery, not all treatment methods involve the use of invasive surgery. An orthopedic physician may utilize combinations of skeletal manipulation, muscle rubs and medication as well as surgery in order to alleviate suffering and help the individual regain a reasonable state of health.

Orthopedic surgery or treatments cover a wide range of ailments and conditions. In some cases, an orthopedic doctor will be addressing trauma to some area of the skeletal system, such as the legs, ankles, or back. The orthopedist may be called upon to deal with infections that are causing pressure or strain on the muscles or bones of an individual. An orthopedic surgeon may be required when some type of degenerative disease or a tumor has invaded the muscle system or is causing ones to begin deteriorating.

Different nations establish the requirements that a healthcare professional must meet before being able to function as an orthopedist. Typically, the individual must successfully complete medical school and follow up with a residency focused on orthopedics. The duration of the residency will vary somewhat, but five years is a standard used in many countries. During that time, the resident will be involved in general surgical procedures for a short time, then focus specifically on orthopedic surgery for the remainder of the residency.


A working knowledge of orthopedics is often helpful in a number of fields of medical specialization. Healthcare professionals who practice sports medicine often receive some amount of training in orthopedic surgery. Practitioners of chiropractic medicine are often well-versed in basic orthopedic treatments and techniques. This is understandable, since chiropractic medicine seeks to treat a number of ailments by promoting the proper alignment of the skeletal system.

A number of specialized medical services fall under the broad category of orthopedic surgery. Surgical procedures on the hands or feet are classified as orthopedic in nature. Reconstructing joints or arthroplasty is also considered a form of orthopedics. Any surgery involving the spine also falls under the umbrella of orthopedic surgery.

Obtaining certification as an orthopedic surgeon is usually accomplished by completing the required educational and residency requirements set within a given nation. In addition, the surgeon must apply for certification from the agency that oversees medical licensing and certification within that country. The American Board of Orthopedic Surgery oversees these functions in the United States, while in Canada the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons handles the certification process.


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