When you sustain a minor injury or experience discomfort for an unknown reason, your first step is to consult your family doctor. However, if your illness or injury involves serious pain or immobility to your musculoskeletal system, your doctor will likely refer you to an orthopedist. Orthopedics is a field of medicine that focuses on the care of the musculoskeletal system, which includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and tendons.
Let’s take a closer look at how orthopedics can benefit both your short- and long-term health.
The Role of an Orthopedist
Generally, there are two types of orthopedists. As the name implies, orthopedic surgeons provide surgical procedures for orthopedic issues (along with many non-surgical options, too), while physiatrists and physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists are trained in nonsurgical techniques. Both often work as part of a larger team that also includes physician assistants, nurse practitioner, occupational and physical therapist, and/or athletic trainers.
An orthopedist is qualified to treat a wide variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Some of the most common ones include:
- Joint pain from a degenerative condition, such as arthritis
- Bone fractures
- Soft tissue injuries that affect muscles, tendons, and ligaments
- Back and neck pain
- Painful shoulder conditions, such as bursitis
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Work-related, overuse, or sports injuries, such as sprains, tendinitis, meniscus tears, and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears
- Congenital musculoskeletal conditions, such as clubfoot and scoliosis
- Degenerative bone conditions
During your first appointment with an orthopedic specialist, the doctor will focus on diagnosingyour condition. This may include conducting a physical examination,as well as taking in-office X-rays.In some cases, the doctor may order additional diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, a computed tomography (CT) scan, a bone scan, an ultrasound, nerve conduction studies, or blood tests.
In addition to diagnosing certain conditions during your appointment, the orthopedist may provide immediate treatment, such as administering corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation. Some acute injuries, such as fractures and dislocations, may require the orthopedist to manipulate the affected bone or joint and immobilize it using a splint, cast, or brace.
Besides in-office treatments, an orthopedist may recommend one or more of the following to treat chronic musculoskeletal conditions:
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
- Rehabilitation and physical therapy
- Home exercises
- Mobility aids (e.g., cane, crutches, walker)
- Minimally invasive surgery,if other treatment options fail
Keep in mind that sometimes patients need to visit their orthopedic doctor a few times, or need to see different providers to narrow down on and figure out the true issue. For example, hip pain can actually present in the groin, which could have a different underlying cause than what it may appear to be initially. In addition, if you have multiple orthopedic problems, you may need separate appointments to discuss each issue with the orthopedic doctor due to insurance reasons.
Orthopedic Surgical Procedures
Some surgical procedures that an orthopedist may recommend and perform include:
- Arthroscopic surgery, a minimally invasive procedure in which a long, thin camera called an arthroscope is inserted into a joint – most commonly the knee or shoulder – to diagnose problems. The camera is connected to a video monitor that allows the orthopedic surgeon to see inside of the joint and make repairs to common injuries, such as meniscus tears, ACL tears, and rotator cuff tears. Recovery from arthroscopic surgery can take anywhere from one week to several months, depending on the severity of the injury.
- Total joint replacement (TJR),in which the orthopedic surgeon removes the worn-out surface of a damaged joint and replaces it with a prosthesis that replicates the function of a healthy joint, enabling you to perform daily activities more quickly after the procedure.
- Fracture repair surgery, which is aimed at restoring the normal anatomy of a severely broken bone. The bone is stabilized using different types of implants that include rods, plates, screws, and wires. For those who lose muscle strength and range of motion in the injured area following surgery, the doctor will recommend specific exercises to restore muscle strength, joint motion, and flexibility.
- Spinal fusion is a procedure in which the orthopedic surgeon fuses two or more vertebrae to correct problems involving the spine. This allows the vertebrae to heal into a single, solid mass of bone.
Orthopedic Experts in Baltimore, Maryland
The board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic doctors at Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland (OACM) are committed to combining the science of medicine with the art of personal care. It is our belief that patients are empowered when they are fully informed and treated as partners in designing care plans with their physicians. As such, we work closely with our patients to determine the best treatment plan to overcome their specific orthopedic needs which, in turn, provides better outcomes and restores function that enhances the quality of life for our patients.