An orthopaedic 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 orthopaedic surgeons are familiar with all aspects of the musculoskeletal system, many orthopaedists specialize in certain areas, such as the foot and ankle, hand, shoulder and elbow, spine, hip or knee. Orthopaedic surgeons may also choose to focus on specific fields like pediatrics, trauma, reconstructive surgery, oncology (bone tumors) or sports medicine.
Education and Training
An orthopaedic surgeon has extensive training in the proper diagnosis and non-surgical and surgical treatment of injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system. Orthopaedic surgeons have completed approximately 14 years of formal education:
- Four years of study in a college or university
- Four years of study in medical school
- Five years of concentrated study in an orthopaedic residency at a major medical center
- An additional year of specialty training is common
Board certification is a very important step following completion of the orthopaedic training program. To become board certified, an orthopaedic surgeon must undergo a peer-review process, and then demonstrate his/her expertise in orthopaedics by passing both oral and written examinations given by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. It is important to visit orthopaedic surgeons who are either board certified or in the process of becoming certified (board eligible).
Because orthopaedic surgeons complete a rigorous re-certification process every 10 years, they spend many hours studying and attending continuing medical education courses to maintain current orthopaedic knowledge and skills.
Who does an Orthopaedic Surgeon Treat?
Orthopaedic 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. Orthopaedic surgeons respect the value of diversity and are committed to serving communities and individuals with unique needs.
What does an Orthopaedic Surgeon Treat?
An orthopaedic surgeon treats many musculoskeletal conditions without surgery, by using medications, exercise and other rehabilitative or alternative therapies. If necessary, he/she may also recommend surgical treatment if the patient does not respond to other treatments.
Some of the conditions and diseases an orthopaedic surgeon treats include:
- Abnormalities of the fingers and toes
- Back pain, ruptured disks, sciatica and scoliosis
- Bone tumors, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy
- Club foot, bunions, bow legs, knock knees and unequal leg length
- Fractures and dislocations
- Growth abnormalities
- 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 Orthopaedic Surgeons Perform?
Orthopaedic 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.
Attribution: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons