Orthopaedic Surgery

Written by Christina Davis on Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 10:20am

Orthopaedic surgery (also spelled orthopedic surgery) is the branch of medicine that specializes in caring for the body’s musculoskeletal system.  Orthopaedic surgeons provide both surgical and non-surgical care for injuries to and diseases of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves.  A patient may need to see an orthopaedic surgeon for a variety of reasons. Some examples may include a torn ligament or broken bone resulting from a sports injury, a traumatic injury due to a car acciden, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, and bone tumors. 

What types of health conditions does an orthopaedic surgeon treat?

An orthopaedic surgeon may treat dislocated joints and fractured bones, sprains and strains, torn ligaments, pulled muscles, tendonitis, and bursitis.  Orthopaedic surgeons care for back injuries and diseases like herniated discs, scoliosis, and low back pain.  They treat arthritis and osteoporosis, and abnormalities of the knees, legs, feet, fingers, and toes.  They also care for people with bone tumors, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy.

Approximately 50% of their practice tends to be non-surgical.  They may prescribe medication and exercises to promote healing, relieve pain, or slow the progression of disease.

What kind of training does an orthopaedic surgeon have?

In addition to four years of college and four years of medical school, an orthopaedic surgeon completes a five year residency, which typically includes one year of training in general surgery and four years of training in orthopaedics, during which they are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries of all aspects of the musculoskeletal system.  Many orthopaedic surgeons complete an additional year of specialized fellowship training in a particular area of orthopaedics, including pediatric orthopaedics, total joint reconstruction and revision, foot and ankle, hand, shoulder and elbow, spine, sports injuries, trauma, tumor (musculoskeletal oncology), and microvascular surgery. 

Orthopaedic surgeons must demonstrate their knowledge of the field by passing the written and oral board exams conducted by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgeons.  Throughout their career, they should study continuously to remain abreast of the new developments in their field.

What is arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical technique used frequently by orthopaedic surgeons to view the inside of joints and diagnose and repair injuries to the joints.  Arthroscopy involves making a small incision and inserting a small pencil-sized instrument into the joint.  A tiny camera attached to the instrument allows the surgeon to visualize the interior of the joint on a television monitor.  Using an arthroscope and tiny surgical instruments, surgeons are often able to remove inflamed tissue or repair torn ligaments and cartilage in the knee, shoulder, elbow, hip, ankle, and wrist.  Because arthroscopy requires a much smaller incision than traditional open surgery, recovery times are often greatly reduced.

What is arthroplasty?

Arthoplasty is another name for joint replacement and reconstruction surgery, in which a joint like the knee, hip, or shoulder is removed and replaced with an artificial joint (a prosthesis) made of plastic, ceramic, or metal.  Arthroplasty may be indicated to treat debilitating arthritis or other injuries to the body’s joints.

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