Orthopedics is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, correction, prevention, and treatment of patients with skeletal deformities – disorders of the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and skin. These elements make up the musculoskeletal system.
Your body’s musculoskeletal system is a complex system of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves and allows you to move, work and be active. Once devoted to the care of children with spine and limb deformities, orthopedics now cares for patients of all ages, from newborns with clubfeet, to young athletes requiring arthroscopic surgery, to older people with arthritis.
In general, orthopedists are skilled in the:
- Diagnosis of your injury or disorder
- Treatment with medication, exercise, surgery or other treatment plans
- Rehabilitation by recommending exercises or physical therapy to restore movement, strength and function
- Prevention with information and treatment plans to prevent injury or slow the progression of diseases
Typically, as much as 50 percent of the orthopedist’s practice is devoted to non-surgical or medical management of injuries or disease and 50 percent to surgical management. Surgery may be needed to restore function lost as a result of injury or disease of bones, joint, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves or skin.
The orthopedist also works closely with other health care professionals and often serves as a consultant to other physicians. Orthopedists are members of the teams that manage complex, multi-system trauma, and often play an important role in the organization and delivery of emergency care.
A field known for innovation
Like other branches of medicine, remarkable technological advances have significantly shaped the field of orthopedics in recent years.
- Arthroscopy – the application of visualizing instruments to assist in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of internal joint diseases – has opened new horizons of therapy
- Exciting cellular research may enable orthopedic surgeons to stimulate the growth of ligaments and bone in patients someday in the future
- Great advances have occurred in the surgical management of degenerative joint disease. For example, orthopedic surgeons can replace a diseased joint with a prosthetic device (total joint replacement)
- Research is progressing on “growing” articular cartilage in joints, which may one day reduce the need for some people to get joint replacements
While most orthopedists practice general orthopedics, some may specialize in treating the foot, hand, shoulder, spine, hip, knee, and others in pediatrics, trauma or sports medicine. Some orthopedists may specialize in several areas.