An orthopedic specialist, also commonly referred to as an orthopedist or orthopedic surgeon, diagnoses and attempts to remedy medical problems related to the human skeleton, joints, tendons and ligaments. She may also treat disorders related to the nervous system that are related to the spine. The medical problems she addresses may be the result of birth defects, injury or aging. The specialist may treat the ailments with physical or drug therapy. Surgery is also a common option to solve some orthopedic problems.
Some orthopedic specialists maintain a general medical practice but most specialize in one specific area of orthopedics. These specialties commonly include spinal disorders, arthroscopy and joint replacement, and hand surgery. Most practices do not discriminate between acute and chronic disorders.
An orthopedic specialist frequently works exclusively in the field of trauma medicine, limiting their treatment to patients in emergency rooms or trauma clinics. A significant number of these specialists are found in the area of sports medicine. More diversified orthopedic specialists work in a wide range of medical environments including podiatry, geriatrics, pediatrics and plastic surgery.
Treatment options for orthopedic patients are extensive. Recommendations usually depend on the nature of the injury, deformity or disease. Many cases focus on sprains, strains or bone dislocation or breakage. Fewer cases are more complicated and may require multiple types of treatments and approaches. The orthopedic specialist may commonly recommend joint replacement, reconstructive surgery or traction. Spinal fusion or amputation may be among the options. Other typically suggested treatments include fasciotomy, bone grafts or kneecap removal.
In recent years, an orthopedic specialist has been able to help many of her patients through use of prosthetics and connective devices and tools. Advances in metallurgy and plastics have resulted in the production of medically specialized fasteners, such as tongs, pins, wires and screws. These help keep damaged bones in alignment and aid in the replacement of damaged connective tissues and bones.
Besides working in private practice, an orthopedic specialist can often find employment on the staff of an independent surgical facility, in trauma or medical centers or at a hospital. She usually works with a surgical team that includes a surgical nurse and an anesthesiologist. Based on the nature of the treatment, orthopedic surgery can be performed under local, regional or general anesthesia.
The word orthopedics is the fusion of two Greek words. Ortho, which means straight, and pais, which means child, make up the root word. This term originated because the first orthopedic specialists almost exclusively treated children who had skeletal deformities. These specialists used braces to straighten their bones.