What is orthopedics? This is the study of the human musculoskeletal system. However, this branch of medicine goes far beyond muscles and bones.
It’s a rich and rewarding field for anyone who’s ever wondered what goes on behind the skin we’re in. Whether you’re considering a career in this industry or simply want to learn more about it, read on.
Today, we’re sharing an ultimate guide to orthopedics, covering everything you need to know. From the conditions that an orthopedic surgeon treats to what you can expect during a visit, it’s all here.
The Field of Orthopedics: A General Overview
Before we dive into all the different orthopedic specialties, let’s briefly cover what this industry entails. In short, orthopedics is a healthcare field that studies the entire musculoskeletal system, including:
Professionals in this field study how these parts work individually, as well as how they work collectively with one another. These different body parts are what enable humans to move and be active. When one part isn’t functioning as it should, you could feel the effects throughout your body.
What Is an Orthopedist?
Orthopedists are doctors who study orthopedics. They are also referred to as orthopedic surgeons. These experts are skilled in diagnosing, correcting, preventing, and treating patients who are experiencing discomfort in any region of their musculoskeletal system.
When this role first emerged in the healthcare field, orthopedists were mostly focused on assisting children who were born with spine or limb deformities. Now, the field is much broader and encompasses a range of different conditions.
Orthopedists see patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. The conditions they treat might have been present since birth (congenital conditions), or they may be the result of an accident or injury. For instance, while a baby might be born with clubfeet and require orthopedic care, a college athlete might visit an orthopedist for help with an injured shoulder.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, common orthopedic treatment areas include:
- Arthritis-related joint pain
- Soft tissue injuries (muscles, tendons, ligaments)
- Pulled muscles
- Ruptured discs
- Bone fractures
- Neck and back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Shoulder pain (bursitis)
In addition, they can also identify and treat injuries that occur due to physical overexertion or sports-related injuries. Common problems in this category include:
- Torn meniscus
- Torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL)
The most common congenital conditions that an orthopedic doctor treats include:
- Muscular dystrophy
- Cerebral palsy
- Unequal leg length
- Finger and toe abnormalities
- Growth disorders and abnormalities
Understanding these specialties is key to choosing the right doctor and navigating your next steps. Orthopedic medical billing offices will code your visit in a specific way based on the treatment you receive.
Orthopedic Medical Teams
At most healthcare facilities, orthopedists do not work alone. Rather, they are part of a greater team of medical workers who specialize in this field. These workers include:
- Physician assistants
- Occupational therapists
- Physical therapists
- Athletic trainers
In some cases, these teams will prescribe medicine to help patients move past their pain and allow their bodies to heal. Other times, they’ll perform physical therapy to strengthen an injured or under-formed body part. They can also provide rehabilitation to help injured patients regain control and use of their musculoskeletal system following an incident.
Typically, these teams will spend about half of their time performing non-surgical injury management. They’ll spend the other half performing orthopedic surgery and other invasive procedures.
Innovative Developments in the Field of Orthopedics
Orthopedics is a rapidly growing medical field, with new innovations and developments happening at every turn. As automation technology continues to change the way we approach healthcare, these tools are also making their way into this industry.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most significant technological changes that have spurred this specialty forward.
Arthroscopy is an advanced medical procedure that allows orthopedists to diagnose and treat a variety of joint problems and disorders. To perform it, the surgeon will insert a narrow tube into the patient’s body through a small incision (about the size of a small button).
The tube is attached to a fiber-optic video camera. The surgeon can use the feedback from this video to better understand what’s behind the patient’s pain. The camera feeds back to a video monitor in real-time, showing an accurate, up-close view.
With these insights, orthopedists can provide appropriate treatments without making a large incision. In some cases, they can even perform minor procedures to repair certain types of joint damage. They do so using a very thin surgical instrument inserted through the incision.
Orthopedic surgeons will often perform knee and hip replacements on patients who need increased mobility in these areas. However, recent innovation has made it possible to create an even wider range of treatments using prosthetic devices and insertions.
Now, they can even replace diseased joints with prosthetic joints. This procedure is called a total joint replacement.
Moving forward, researchers expect that orthopedic specialists will soon be able to “grow” articular cartilage in a patient’s joints. In time, this could reduce the need for joint replacement surgeries altogether.
There are also exciting developments happening in the field of orthopedic cellular research. Scientists are looking at ways that surgeons can use platelet-rich plasma and stem cells to stimulate ligament and bone growth for patients in need.
What to Expect at an Appointment
Are you scheduled to visit an orthopedic surgeon in the future? If so, it can help to know what you might experience when you attend your visit. Often, multiple visits are required to complete the full scope of your treatment.
Your orthopedic surgeon will likely spend your first visit learning more about what’s causing you pain, and where the issue is occurring. They’ll also look over your medical history to gather more information about your overall health. In addition to conducting a physical exam, they may also take X-rays.
If your condition is minor, the orthopedist might be able to treat it right in the office, on your first visit. For instance, they can provide an injection to help treat a sore muscle. They can also reset or manipulate a bone or joint as required, or immobilize it with a splint or cast.
If your condition cannot be treated in a single visit, your doctor may require you to come back for follow-up visits to continue your diagnosis. They can run other tests to get to the root of the problem, such as:
- MRI scans
- CT scans
- Bone scans
- Blood tests
- Nerve studies
Once your orthopedic doctor fully understands what’s causing your pain, they can recommend and provide the right kind of treatment. If they cannot perform that treatment in their office, they’ll inform you of your next steps.
For instance, if you have back pain or chronic arthritis, they may recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines to help ease the discomfort. They may also schedule you to attend rehabilitation or physical therapy appointments, or help you begin an at-home exercise program.
Common Surgeries and Operations
While orthopedic surgery is an option for many patients, doctors will often reserve this as a last resort. Instead, they’ll usually try to treat your problem in a non-invasive way, first. If you do need surgical treatment, here are a few of the most common types.
Total Joint Replacement
As mentioned, a total joint replacement (TJR) is a surgical procedure that replaces your damaged joint with a prosthetic one. The prosthesis is usually made of a combination of metal and plastic. One of the most frequently performed elective surgeries in the country, TJR is also called arthroplasty.
Fracture Repair Surgery
Some broken bones can heal on their own if immobilized via a splint, cast, or brace. If the break is more severe, an orthopedist will perform fracture repair surgery to correct it.
In this case, they’ll stabilize the bone with a precisely-sized mechanism, such as a rod, plate, wire, or screw.
If adjoining vertebrae in your spine move out of place for any reason, an orthopedist can fuse them back together via spinal fusion surgery. This may happen due to a back injury or another condition, such as scoliosis.
This procedure allows the individual vertebrae to heal together, forming a unified, solid bone mass.
Bone grafting surgery allows an orthopedist to take bone tissue from one place on a patient’s body and use it to repair or strengthen another area on their body. The healthy tissue stimulates the diseased or damaged bone, enabling it to grow and heal.
What Is Orthopedics? A Fascinating Field
What is orthopedics? As you can see from this guide, it’s an innovative and fast-paced field that can change patients’ lives for the better. These medical experts are trained to treat a significant number of musculoskeletal conditions, and you’ll be thankful for their expertise if you ever need it.
Now that you know a little more about what to expect at an appointment, you may want to schedule one soon to finally address that muscle, bone, or ligament issue that’s been pestering you.
Looking for more medical-related information? Be sure to check out the other posts in our Health section!