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What is Orthopedics?

Orthopedic specialists work with the muscles, joints and ligaments associated with the skeletal system.
An orthopedist may diagnose and care for patients with broken bones.
An orthopedist may help treat patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.
An orthopedic healthcare provider looking at the X-ray of a patient with joint problems.
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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 02 August 2014
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Orthopedics — or more correctly, orthopaedics — is the medical specialty that pertains to the diagnosis and treatment of disorders, conditions, and injuries of the skeletal system and the muscles, joints, and ligaments associated with it. Both spellings of this term are generally accepted, but the second is technically correct and how most official medical organizations spell it. Medical professionals who specialize in this field are called orthopaedists, but the layman’s term is orthopedic surgeon or orthopedic specialist.

These healthcare professionals treat a wide variety of conditions pertaining to the body, including problems like arthritis, sports injuries, back pain, leg and foot pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Orthopedic surgeons are specially trained to deal with common conditions associated with the skeletal system and to perform surgical repair when necessary.

Common surgical procedures performed by surgeons in this field include joint replacement and repair of damaged nerves or relocation of compressed nerves. Some specialize in only one type of injury, and others may exclusively treat one particular part of the body, such as hands or feet. Some doctors further specialize by exclusively treating children. These doctors are called pediatric orthopedic surgeons.

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A pediatric specialist may treat problems that arise with the growth and development of children, such as curvature of the spine, or scoliosis, and limb length discrepancy. The field is a specialty that can be called upon in emergency situations as well. Fractures, severe sprains or strains, and dislocated joints are all common injuries suffered by active children. These medical professionals will treat the child while keeping in mind that his or her body is still growing and developing.

Patients can also consult with a doctor specializing in this area about bone health and prevention of bone loss. Medical professionals in the field often work closely with physical therapists to help heal an injury that might otherwise require surgery.

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zenmaster
Post 5

Interestingly enough, the word "orthopedics" originates from the Greek "ortho" for straight, and "pedics", a derivative of the word for children.

So originally, orthopedics was associated primarily with treating injured or disabled children.

LittleMan
Post 4

@firstviolin -- Sorry to hear about your back issues.

While both orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons can diagnose spinal problems, develop a treatment plan, and if need be, perform spinal surgery, they do have different training.

It depends on what kind of problems you are having with your spine -- if you think it is more nerve-related, I would see a neurosurgeon; if you think it's a bone issue or malformation, go with the orthopedist.

FirstViolin
Post 3

I've been having some problems with my spine lately, and someone recommended me to go to an orthopedic spine surgeon.

However, I was wondering, might it not be better to go to a neurosurgeon?

Does anyone know how the treatment would differ, or which one I should consult?

CirrusClouds
Post 2

Orthopedics can specialize in a specific joint, like ankles or knees, but can take that specialization further to handle knee or ankle damage from playing basketball or soccer. Orthopedic specialists can work closely with a specific sport or team as part of the medical staff.

An orthopedist can be on call for a specific ailment or injury, like a doctor who specializes in shoulders can be on call for major league baseball pitchers who require a lot of extra care and physical therapy for their pitching arm. That type of orthopedist could specialize in performing Tommy John surgery

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