An orthopedic surgeon is sitting next to a  senior woman in an exam room. He is explaining something to her.

What Does an Orthopedic Surgeon Do?

Keeping your joints, bones, ligaments, nerves, tendons, and muscles healthy and free of pain is an important physical quality for everyday life.

Orthopedic doctors play a crucial role in helping people recover and be free of pain in any of these musculoskeletal areas. Orthopedics can perform surgery, diagnose a patient’s problems, and recommend treatment options to improve your health.

An orthopedist can help those of any age recover from an injury or reduce pain after a sports-related injury, work-related injury, car incident, or an incident falling.

Below is more information about what an orthopedist surgeon and an orthopedic specialist can do.

Which Areas of the Body Require an Orthopedic Surgeon?

An orthopedic surgeon can perform various surgical procedures on the hand, hip, ankle, knee, spine, and neck.

Orthopedic surgeons try to avoid surgery as much as possible to treat the issue in the most natural way possible. However, if surgery is necessary, the most commonly performed procedures on the body are the following:

  • Ankles: Sports athletes and employees performing manual labor often suffer these injuries. The most common type of foot injury is an ankle fracture. A worker can suffer a fracture from falling or stepping the wrong way. Athletes can suffer a fracture from their ankle awkwardly twisting while playing sports.
  • Knees: Common knee surgeries are on the medial collateral ligament, or MCL, and anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. Knee replacements and meniscus surgery are also common.
  • Hips: Repairing the femoral neck, a trochanteric fracture, and hip joint replacement are the most common hip procedures.
  • Shoulders: The most common procedure is arthroscopic surgery to repair a damaged rotator cuff. Other procedures include decompressing the shoulder.
  • Wrists: Carpal tunnel procedure is the most common wrist surgery and surgery to repair a broken wrist.

What Surgeries Does an Orthopedic Surgeon Perform?

  • Bone Fusion: A bone graft is employed to connect two bones. When the bone tissue heals, it fuses and becomes one singular bone. The procedure is often used for neck and spine surgeries on the vertebrae.
  • Debridement: When tissue has worn away and needs to be removed, a debridement procedure is performed. The tissue needs to be removed because it can become infected. The procedure removes callus, thickened skin, infected skin, and dead tissue.
  • Internal fixation of bones: Pins, screws, and plates are used to attach fragments of bones and keep them together so the bone can properly heal.
  • Joint replacement procedure: This is the most common orthopedic operation. The procedure replaces an injured joint with a prosthetic. Osteotomy: This procedure cuts off part of a bone and realigns it. This procedure also treats arthritis pain.
  • Release surgery: This surgery is for carpal tunnel syndrome. It also helps to reduce pressure and relieve symptoms.
  • Revision joint surgery: This procedure replaces an old joint implant with a new joint replacement implant.
  • Soft tissue repair: Repairs have severely torn ligaments or tendons.

Range of Surgical Procedures

An orthopedist will likely perform a traditional procedure or an arthroscopic procedure.

  • Traditional: Traditional surgery is more invasive and uses incisions into the body. This procedure requires longer recovery times. This surgery is usually reserved for those with severe joint, knee, tendon, or ligament damage. 
  • Arthroscopic: Arthroscopic surgery is less invasive than traditional. A surgeon will use an arthroscopy to look inside of a joint. This procedure uses small incisions compared to traditional surgery. Arthroscopic surgery tends to have a quicker recovery time, fewer scars, less pain, and less medication reliance.

Treating an Injury Without Surgery

Injuries can sometimes be treated without surgery. Many sports-related injuries are treated without surgery through physical therapy, exercise, or immobilization. Some treatments can be applied at home to help you recover from an injury or pain.

An orthopedic specialist is recommended when you’re trying to avoid surgery. An orthopedic specialist will find the cause of the pain and can devise several options to lower pain or recover from an injury.

An orthopedic specialist may recommend non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy, exercise, medication, acupuncture, or massage to help you prevent constant pain or injury recovery. Here are some ways an orthopedic specialist uses non-surgical treatments.

  • Exercise: An exercise program can be implemented to help recover and strengthen the injured musculoskeletal area to prevent re-injury.
  • Immobilization: The best treatment can sometimes be not putting additional strain or pressure on an area to prevent re-injury and to help it heal faster. A doctor may recommend a brace, splint, or a cast to wear to prevent further injury to the area.
  • Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle changes can help prevent re-aggravation of an injury, such as changing your diet and doing more physical activity to have a healthier musculoskeletal system.
  • Medication: Various medications issued by the orthopedist can aid in the recovery process or prevent further pain. An orthopedist may issue muscle relaxers or pain medication.
  • Massage/Acupuncture: Using massage and acupuncture to treat the injured musculoskeletal area can be very beneficial in helping the area heal and lower the amount of pain. Getting frequent massages or acupuncture can be beneficial in helping the area heal naturally.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy aims to relieve pain in the area. This is recommended for people who have a critical injury but do not need surgery to repair the injury.

When Do You Need to See an Orthopedic Expert?

See an orthopedic expert after experiencing the following symptoms.

  • Usual, everyday tasks become painful: Pain prevents you from doing everyday activities that you used to perform without any problem. If muscle, back, joint, or neck pain disrupts everyday simple tasks, then it’s advised to see a doctor.
  • Pain is felt for a long time: If you’ve experienced pain in any of these areas for multiple weeks, an orthopedist should be seen for evaluation. Pain in joints and bones can be the first sign of arthritis. Lastly, seeing an orthopedist is advised if at-home treatment does not lessen the pain.
  • Difficulty walking: One of the top signs of joint pain is feeling unbalanced while walking, standing, or trying to sit down. Set up an appointment with a doctor if you’re experiencing any of these issues so they can get corrected quickly.
  • Limited range of motion: An early sign of arthritis is joint stiffness and a range of motion loss in the joints. If any area is causing a limitation in physical movement that you haven’t experienced before then it’s recommended to get checked by an orthopedist.
  • Numbness and tingling are felt: These symptoms can be caused by nerve compression. Nerve compression happens when too much pressure is placed on nerves, causing numbness or tingling in certain areas.
  • Injury is not healing: An injury can happen from playing sports, falling, a car incident, or a work-related incident. If you experience any musculoskeletal pain that is not going away due to any of these injuries, then it’s advised to see an orthopedic surgeon.
  • Soft tissue injury not healing: If a sprained ankle, twisted knee, or busted wrist has not healed correctly within 48 hours, it’s advised to see an orthopedist to get a diagnosis.

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