Overview of Orthopedics

Most people will see an orthopedist at some time in their life, and many people will see their orthopedist very often. Yet there is often confusion about what different types of problems and conditions orthopedic surgeons treat. Orthopedics is the study of the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic surgeons specialize in diagnosis and treatment of problems of the musculoskeletal system.

Orthopedics and the Musculoskeletal System

Orthopedics is the medical specialty of treatment of the musculoskeletal system.

The musculoskeletal system includes bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and nerves. Orthopedic doctors will care for patients of all ages from newborn babies to the very elderly.

The musculoskeletal system can be thought of as the framework for our body and the mechanics that make it function. The reality is, that just about every medical specialty has some overlap with orthopedics and the musculoskeletal system. 

Generally, the specialty is referred to as orthopedic surgery, although many non-surgical treatments are provided by orthopedic surgeons. In fact, most orthopedic surgeons spend the majority of their time treating patients outside of the operating room. Most orthopedic specialists have a busy office-based practice. Orthopedists can also be found working in the emergency room, taking care of patients in the hospital wards, or even on the sidelines of a sporting event.

Three Things to Know About Orthopedics

  • Orthopedic conditions are the most common reason people seek medical care, although not every patient with an orthopedic condition is seen by an orthopedic specialist.
  • The Greek word 'ortho' means straight and 'pedics' comes from the word 'pais' meaning child. For many centuries, orthopedists have been involved in the treatment of crippled children. One of conditions orthopedists have treated for centuries is scoliosis in children.
  • It takes just over a decade of schooling and training after college to become an orthopedic surgeon. Becoming an orthopedic specialist takes a little time. But even after a decade of training, many surgeons further sub-specialize within orthopedics.

If You've Been Diagnosed With an Orthopedic Condition

At some point, just about everyone will be diagnosed with an orthopedic condition. The good news is that most orthopedic conditions are treatable. In fact, some of the most successful treatments and surgical procedures are orthopedic.

Ensure You Have an Accurate Diagnosis 

Not every person with shoulder pain has a rotator cuff tear, and not everyone with back pain has a muscle strain. While these problems may be among the most common causes of discomfort, if your condition is something else, then the treatment may change. Step number one is to find an orthopedist who can help diagnose the cause of your problem and steer your treatment in the right direction.

Take Control of Your Treatment 

The best way to do that is to learn about the condition that is causing your symptoms.

Many musculoskeletal conditions can be managed with proper conditioning and rehabilitation, but you have to learn the right things to do for treatment.

Take Good Care if Your Body

Many common health problems make management of orthopedic conditions much more difficult. Weight gain places tremendous stress on joints, and injured or worn out joints almost always feel worse in heavier people. Smoking slows bone healing and can make recovery from treatment less successful and take longer. Taking good care of your body can truly make management of orthopedic problems much easier.

Living With an Orthopedic Problem

While many orthopedic conditions can be treated and cured, some people have to live with an orthopedic condition. One of the most challenging aspects of managing an orthopedic condition is staying fit and healthy when you have a musculoskeletal problem. Exercise is often difficult and painful for people suffering with bone and joint problems, for example.

On a positive note, there are many ways to modify ​activity and new activities you can try that may not place as much stress on an injured joint, allowing you to remain active and fit. Remember, orthopedic conditions are almost always best managed by keeping a normal body weight and maintaining strong musculature. There are exercises that you can do, even with painful joints.

Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor

Always feel encouraged to ​ask questions of your orthopedist. In fact, if your orthopedist doesn't have time for your questions that may be a sign you need to find a different doctor. The best way to ensure you get all of your questions answered is to write them down and bring them with you to your appointment. Make sure you also write down the answers your doctor gives you for future reference.

Another helpful way to ensure all of your questions are addressed is to have a health advocate. This may be a family member or a close friend, or it may be a professional social worker, but it should be someone who can come with you to appointments and help speak on your behalf. Often the anxiety of treatment or surgery can cloud your thinking. Having someone go with you to appointments can help to ensure there are no loose ends.

A Word From Verywell

Being diagnosed with an orthopedic condition can be frustrating and scary. However, most orthopedic conditions have effective treatments, and many people find complete resolution of their symptoms when they take the proper steps. Many orthopedic conditions, even if they come on abruptly, are the result of long-developing problems in the way we use our bodies. Successful treatment may take some time and effort, but the investment is worth it.

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