Orthopaedics is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, care, and treatment of patients with disorders of the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and skin. These elements make up the musculoskeletal system. The physicians who specialize in this area are called orthopaedic surgeons or orthopaedic surgeons.
Orthopaedic surgeons are involved in all aspects of heath care pertaining to the musculoskeletal system. They use medical, physical, and rehabilitative methods as well as surgery.
Typically, as much as 50 percent of the orthopaedic surgeon’s practice is devoted to no surgical or medical management of injuries or disease and 50 percent to surgical management. Surgery may be needed to restore function lost as a result of injury or disease of bones, joint, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, or skin.
The orthopaedic surgeon also works closely with other health care professionals and often serves as a consultant to other physicians. Orthopaedic surgeons play an important role in the organization and delivery of emergency care. They are members of the teams that manage complex, multi-system trauma.
The Scope of Orthopaedics
Orthopaedics is a specialty of immense breadth and variety. Orthopaedic surgeons treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including
- fractures and dislocations
- torn ligaments, sprains, and strains
- tendon injuries, pulled muscles, and bursitis
- ruptured disks, sciatica, low back pain, and scoliosis
- knock knees, bow legs, bunions, and hammer toes
- arthritis and osteoporosis
- bone tumors, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy
- club foot and unequal leg length
- abnormalities of the fingers and toes and growth abnormalities
Great advances have occurred in the surgical management of degenerative joint disease. For example,
Orthopaedic surgeons can replace a diseased joint with a prosthetic device (total joint replacement).
- Arthroscopy, the application of visualizing instruments to assist in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of internal joint diseases, has opened new horizons of therapy.
- Research is progressing on “growing” articular cartilage in joints, which may one day reduce the need for some people to get joint replacements.
- Exciting cellular research may enable orthopaedic surgeons to stimulate the growth of ligaments and bone in patients someday in the future.
Much of the early work in orthopaedics involved treating children who had spine or limb deformities. Orthopaedic surgeons continue to treat children, as well as diseases prevalent in the elderly.