I have been involved in orthopaedics for decades — in fact, pretty much all my life. I remember my orthopaedist as well as I remember my pediatrician. Showing up for being pigeon-toed, bow-legged, multiple injuries and eventually coming full circle and being allowed to work with him as a medical student.
I even thought about going into practice with him and eventually taking the reins as he retired. I guess I’ve always known what we do in the realm of doctors, but I am sometimes surprised that many people do not.
What Is an Orthopaedic Surgeon?
What can orthopaedic surgeons treat? What are they trained to do? Can I go see an orthopaedic surgeon without a referral?
In general, we tend to be a clever and sporty bunch – at least in the recent past. Many of our kind were athletes at higher levels and inevitably needed the services we so expertly and currently dispense.
Our field is in high demand and, as we finish medical school, it has attracted many of the better students in their classes – at least those that preferred surgery as a career.
Our residency (training after medical school) lasts five years and many will choose an additional year known as a fellowship to learn even more about a specific area of orthopaedics.
So, let’s get back to those questions.
What Do Orthopaedic Surgeons Do?
Orthopaedic surgeons treat injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system. In other words, we treat injury, disease and degenerative changes in muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and joints – sometimes even nerves.
This includes everything that helps you move and stand from the base of your skull to your toes. This does not include the head or face. We are trained to repair all of these structures, replace worn-out joints and keep you moving.
The term “surgeon” seems to imply we want to fix everything with surgery, but this is not the case, and it is not the full extent of our education.
We are thoroughly trained and practiced in prevention of injuries and non-surgical treatment of all these structures. A big part of our week is doing just that — trying to prevent patients needing surgery.
We guide people through:
• Altered activity
• Physical therapy
• Specialist referrals
If all else fails and these things are not the right solution, we can then perform the appropriate surgery.
Types of Orthopaedic Specialties
We have a complete set of skills to get you through most ailments in our arena. These days, the volume of information and treatments for all of the musculoskeletal system is…massive. That is why you will see our kind specializing in some specific areas.
Remember the term fellowship?
Some specializations include:
• Sports medicine
• Joint replacement specialists
• Repair of failed joint replacements
• Hand surgery
• Shoulder surgery
• Hip preservation specialists
• Trauma specialists
• Spine specialists
• Foot and ankle
The list goes on but most of us still see and treat all the general complaints and injuries that come our way and can guide you to the right specialist if it is needed.
As a group, we get referrals from primary care doctors all the time, but patients also come to see us when they know the problem is in their bones, joints, muscles, etc. Hopefully, before it becomes a bigger issue.
We tend to be in that zone between primary care (for musculoskeletal stuff) and specialist that only get patients by referral.
So, now you too are in the “know.” Don’t be afraid of the term “surgeon” but be reassured.
That term means we can care for you from start to finish. It means we have the training and tools to care for everything from a sprained finger to a shattered leg to a worn-out shoulder.
It means we are the experts in taking care of what keeps you moving…and we aim to do just that.