Orthopedic Surgeons: Who Are They and What Do They Do?
Why Choose an Orthopedic Surgeon?
Back pain, sports injuries, arthritic hips and knees, and stiff neck muscles are just a few of the musculoskeletal conditions that have an enormous impact on Americans and the entire health care system. For the proper diagnosis and most appropriate treatment options for musculoskeletal conditions, it is important to consult an orthopedic surgeon.
Who is an Orthopedic Surgeon?
An orthopedic surgeon is a physician devoted to the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of injuries, disorders and diseases of the body’s musculoskeletal system. This system includes bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves and tendons.
While orthopedic surgeons are familiar with all aspects of the musculoskeletal system, many orthopedists specialize in certain areas, such as the foot and ankle, hand, shoulder and elbow, spine, hip or knee. Orthopedic surgeons may also choose to focus on specific fields like pediatrics, trauma, reconstructive surgery, oncology (bone tumors) or sports medicine.
Who does an Orthopedic Surgeon Treat?
Orthopedic surgeons treat patients of all ages – newborns, children, athletes, baby boomers and the elderly – with conditions that range from bone and joint disorders and fractures to diseases or tears of the muscles, ligaments and tendons in all regions of the body.
It is essential that patients and their families develop partnerships with their physicians. This will help ensure that decisions about medical treatments honor the patients’ wants, needs, preferences and values. Orthopedic surgeons respect the value of diversity and are committed to serving communities and individuals with unique needs.
What does an Orthopedic Surgeon Treat?
Some of the conditions and diseases an orthopedic surgeon treats include:
- Fractures and dislocations
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sports or work-related injuries
- Tendon injuries, pulled muscles, bursitis and torn cartilage
- Torn ligaments, sprains and strains
What Types of Surgeries do Orthopedic Surgeons Perform?
Orthopedic surgeons perform numerous types of surgeries on patients. Common surgeries include:
- Arthroscopy – a procedure using special cameras and equipment to visualize, diagnose and treat problems inside a joint.
- Fusion – a “welding” process by which bones are fused together with bone grafts and internal devices – such as metal rods – to heal into a single solid bone.
- Internal Fixation – a method to hold the broken pieces of bone in proper position with metal plates, pins or screws while the bone is healing.
- Joint replacement (partial, total and revision) – when an arthritic or damaged joint is removed and replaced with an artificial joint called a prosthesis.
- Osteotomy – the correction of bone deformity by cutting and repositioning the bone.
- Soft Tissue Repair – the mending of soft tissue, such as torn tendons or ligaments.
What Should a Patient Expect from a Visit with an Orthopedic Surgeon?
In general, visits with an orthopedic surgeon start with a personal interview, physical examination and review of previous records or tests. This may be followed by additional diagnostic exams, such as blood tests, X-rays or other images. For most orthopedic conditions and injuries there may be more than one form of treatment. The orthopedic surgeon will discuss treatment options with the patient to mutually determine the plan best suited for his/her health and lifestyle.
The use of arthroscopic techniques has been particularly important for injured patients. Arthroscopy was pioneered in the early 1950s by Dr. Masaki Watanabe of Japan to perform minimally invasive cartilage surgery and reconstructions of torn ligaments. Arthroscopy allows patients to recover from the surgery in a matter of days, rather than the weeks to months required by conventional, ‘open’ surgery. It is a very popular technique. Knee arthroscopy is one of the most common operations performed by orthopedic surgeons today and is often combined with meniscectomy or chondroplasty. The majority of upper extremity outpatient orthopedic procedures are now performed arthroscopically.