What Orthopedic Doctors Do and When to See One


While your general doctor monitors and manages your overall health, orthopedic doctors and surgeons take a specialized approach to caring for the musculoskeletal system. This system is comprised of your joints, bones, nerves, ligaments, and tendons, as well as the connective tissues between the joints and bones. Frequently visited by athletes, people in their 40’s and beyond, and by those who’ve been in jarring, impact events, an orthopedic doctor can diagnose a range of injuries and conditions relating to these structures, and to the overall balance and functioning of the entire musculoskeletal system.

Sports and Activity-Related Injuries

Athletes and those who engage in intense physical activities frequently work with orthopedic doctors. An orthopedic doctor can assess, diagnose, and treat a vast range of conditions relating to impact injuries, pulled, strained, or sprained muscles, torn ligaments, fractured, broken, or contused bones, and more. People can schedule appointments with orthopedic doctors after injury, or as a preventative measure when certain risk factors exist. An orthopedic doctor can leverage strategies for expediting healing, improving musculoskeletal functioning, and limiting stress on structures that have been broken, sprained or otherwise injured before. With the right strategies, damages caused by overuse or overuse injuries can be mitigated, minimized, and even reversed.

Orthopedic doctors and surgeons have specialized training for treating problems within these areas:

  • Neck
  • Hips
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Elbows
  • Knees

They are also adept in diagnosing and treating problems affecting the hands and feet.

The Prevention and Management of Progressive Conditions

Slight decreases in bone density and bone health are an expected part of the normal aging process. However, when these decreases occur at an accelerated rate or when they result in diminished health and lowered life qualities, orthopedic care can help. An orthopedic doctor is the professional to see when dealing with degenerative or progressive, age-related diseases such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory arthritis.

Surgery and Working With an Orthopedic Doctor

Most orthopedic doctors pursue all possible forms of non-invasive treatment before recommending surgery. Typically used as the last resort, orthopedic surgery is considered higher in risk than other treatment methods for addressing problems relating to the joints and bones. Among some of the strategies that an orthopedic doctor might recommend before suggesting surgery are:

  • Medications or injections for managing pain and chronic conditions
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Nutritional or supplemental guidance
  • Rehab or physical therapy

Orthopedic patients are frequently given dynamic, multi-pronged plans that include several non-invasive interventions that are meant to work seamlessly together.

When to See an Orthopedic Doctor

People often see orthopedic doctors immediately after sustaining injuries caused by sports or other physical activities. However, you can also work with an orthopedic doctor if experiencing arthritic pain, back pain, neck discomfort, diminished mobility, fractures, or broken bones. These professionals can additionally assist with torn muscles and ligaments, work-related injuries, and muscle sprains and strains. Following any diagnosis for an age-related illness pertaining to the musculoskeletal system, it’s important to consult with an orthopedic doctor. Needs-specific treatment plans can be leveraged to effectively mitigate and manage osteoarthritis, arthritis, and more. These doctors also work with patients who’ve been diagnosed with bone tumors.

Pediatric Orthopedists

There are also orthopedic doctors who specialize in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries in children. Pediatric orthopedists diagnose, monitor, and treat problems with bone growth, scoliosis, and various other developmental and congenital issues including hip dysplasia and clubfoot. With approximately one in seven people experiencing orthopedic issues at some point in time, orthopedic doctors and surgeons routinely treat people of all ages and walks of life.

Scheduling an Appointment With an Orthopedic Doctor

Pain pertaining to the musculoskeletal system is quite common. Even mildly stressful activities can result in muscle sprains or strains, especially when performed with poor posture, poor balance, and poor weight management. However, when discomfort spans for 12 weeks or longer, working with an orthopedic specialist is the best bet. This is all the more true when discomfort is paired with diminished range of motion, changes in balance, and difficulty performing basic, everyday movements and activities.

Getting a Referral to an Orthopedic Doctor

Some insurance companies require policyholders to receive referrals to orthopedic doctors and all other medical specialists. The good news is that when this care is required, most primary care doctors are happy to make the necessary referrals. Referrals are also often received from urgent care centers when patients are treated in these locations for musculoskeletal injuries.

However, when pain and mobility challenges are long-lasting, you may need to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic doctor of your own volition. During your appointment, your doctor will ask questions about your general life habits, your physical activities, and other factors that might pertain to your injury. Diagnostic records from earlier treatments will be reviewed, and new diagnostic imaging may be performed. The goal of these and other efforts during an initial appointment is to learn more about the causes of your discomfort, the activities that may be exacerbating your issues, and the best and most needs-specific methods of treatment. With the right information, these professionals can both accurately diagnose musculoskeletal issues and arrive at safe, effective, and ideally non-invasive treatment plans.

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