Orthopedic Surgeon: Your Bone & Joint Specialist
What is an orthopedic surgeon?
An orthopedic surgeon specializes in diagnosing, treating, preventing and rehabilitating injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system, including the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, nerves and bones. An orthopedic surgeon provides medical and surgical care for people of all ages who have problems with their joints, muscles or bones.
An orthopedic surgeon typically:
Evaluates a patient’s medical history and any previous tests or records
Performs a physical exam
Provides exercise, alternative and rehabilitation therapies
Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications
Diagnoses and treats acute and chronic musculoskeletal diseases and conditions including back pain, arthritis, and sports injuries
Performs surgical procedures on your bones, joints, and surrounding tissues and structures, such as knee replacement or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) repair
An orthopedic surgeon may also be known as a bone doctor, orthopedic doctor, joint specialist, or orthopedist. You may also see it spelled differently, as orthopaedic surgeon (orthopaedist).
Who should see an orthopedic surgeon?
Most people see an orthopedic surgeon when their primary care doctor refers them to one. Often, the purpose of the referral is to evaluate your need for surgery. However, people may also see an orthopedic surgeon for medical management or rehabilitation of musculoskeletal diseases and conditions.
Anyone with musculoskeletal conditions should consider consulting an orthopedic surgeon for a proper diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment options.
When should you see an orthopedic surgeon?
Consider seeking care from an orthopedic surgeon if you develop any of the following symptoms or conditions:
Broken bones or dislocated joints
Chronic back pain or spine deformities
Difficulty walking, kneeling, bending, or turning your head and neck
Growth abnormalities (uneven leg length, knock-knees, or bowlegs)
Osteoporosis symptoms (spine deformities, decrease in height, and frequent fractures)
Persistent joint pain, swelling or stiffness
Severe or chronic pulled muscles, sprains, or strains
You should also seek care from an experienced orthopedic surgeon if you have a sports or work-related injury or suffer from cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or related illnesses.
What conditions and diseases does an orthopedic surgeon treat?
An orthopedic surgeon treats conditions and diseases including:
Deformities including club foot, bunions, uneven bone length, and birth defects
Muscle problems including pulled muscles, muscle tears, muscular dystrophy, and cerebral palsy
Trauma and bone fractures including injuries to bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and vessels in the arms, legs, back and neck
Tumors including cancerous and noncancerous tumors of the bones, muscles and joints
What tests does an orthopedic surgeon perform or order?
An orthopedic surgeon can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests including:
Blood vessel exams including Doppler ultrasounds and venography
Imaging exams including X-rays, bone scans, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Laboratory exams including blood tests, urine tests, and joint aspiration analysis
Screening tests including bone density tests
What procedures and treatments does an orthopedic surgeon perform or order?
Orthopedic surgeons order or perform various procedures and treatments to manage musculoskeletal conditions. Orthopedic surgeons are trained in medical, surgical and rehabilitation treatments. Common procedures and treatments include:
Arthroscopy including any minimally invasive joint procedure to treat problems inside joints
Complementary therapies including biofeedback and the use of magnets, sound waves, or electricity to stimulate healing
Internal fixation including plates, pins and screws to secure broken bones
Nonsurgical treatments including exercise therapy, medications, injections, casts, splints, crutches, canes, walkers and orthotics
Osteotomy including bone repositioning to correct deformities
Spinal surgeries including disc removal or repair, spinal fusion, and removal of part of your vertebrae to relieve spinal pressure or nerve impingement
Orthopedic surgeon training and certification
A doctor may practice orthopedic surgery without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification verifies that a doctor has completed residency training in the specialty and has passed competency examinations.
A board-certified orthopedic surgeon has earned certification in orthopedic surgery from a U.S. certifying board. A board-certified orthopedic surgeon has:
Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree
Completed residency training in orthopedic surgery
Passed a certification process including an exam that validates the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skills in orthopedic surgery
To maintain board certification in orthopedic surgery, a doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program.
Doctors who earn board certification in orthopaedic surgery can pursue subspecialty certificates. Subspecialty certification requires additional training beyond the residency program, as well as passing an exam. The additional training is sometimes known as a fellowship. Subspecialties of orthopedic surgery include:
Hand surgery focuses on diagnosing and treating problems with any of the structures of the hand, wrist, forearm and elbow.
Orthopedic sports medicine focuses on diagnosing, treating and preventing sports injuries, as well as managing conditions that affect participation in sports and other physical activities.
Although not formal, board-certified subspecialties, orthopedic surgeons can train in the following areas:
Arthroscopy and arthroscopic surgery focuses on using arthroscopic methods to diagnose and treat joint diseases and injuries.
Foot and ankle surgery focuses on caring for people with foot and ankle injuries and diseases.
Joint replacement and surgery in arthritis focuses on caring for people with advanced arthritis using medical treatments, joint replacement, and other procedures.
Musculoskeletal oncology focuses on treating benign (noncancerous) and malignant tumors of bones, joints and muscles.
Pediatric orthopedics focuses on caring for children with injuries, deformities and diseases of the bone, joints, muscles and tendons.
Rehabilitation focuses on improving strength and mobility and optimizing recovery through short- and long-term programs.
Shoulder and elbow surgery focuses on caring for people with injuries and diseases of the shoulder and elbow.
Spine surgery focuses on surgical and nonsurgical treatment of deformities, injuries and disorders of the back and neck.
Trauma and fractures focuses on treating injuries to the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, nerves, and vessels of the arms, legs, back and neck.