The Orthopedic Treatment Team
What is orthopedics?
Orthopedics is a medical specialty that deals with the treatment of bones and muscles.
Orthopedic surgery is the branch of medicine concerned with diseases, injuries, and
conditions of the musculoskeletal system relating to the body's muscles and skeleton.
This includes the joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves.
Who treats orthopedic conditions?
Orthopedic conditions may be treated by your doctor or other medical specialists and
healthcare providers. Several doctors from different medical specialties may be involved
in the treatment at the same time. This approach is important to manage the symptoms
of an orthopedic condition, especially as many symptoms are long-term (chronic) and
change over time. Some of the more common medical professionals who take part in treating
orthopedic conditions may include:
Primary care doctor
A primary care doctor has specialized education and training in general internal medicine,
family practice, or another first-level-of-care area. Primary care doctors provide
people with any of the following:
Routine healthcare (including yearly physical exams and immunizations)
Treatment for acute medical conditions
Initial care for conditions that may become more serious or chronic in nature
Your primary care doctor may treat and diagnose your disease. They may also refer
you to a specialist for more specialized treatment of certain aspects of a disease.
This doctor specializes in orthopedic surgery. They may also be called an orthopedist.
Orthopedists are educated in the workings of the musculoskeletal system. They can
diagnose bone, muscle, joint, tendon, or ligament conditions. They can also treat
an injury, provide rehabilitation (rehab), and advise on how to prevent further damage
to a diseased area.
The orthopedist may have completed up to 14 years of formal education. After becoming
licensed to practice medicine, the orthopedic surgeon may become board-certified by
passing both oral and written exams given by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.
Many orthopedic surgeons choose to practice general orthopedics. Others specialize
in certain areas of the body such as the foot, hand, shoulder, spine, hip, or knee.
Others specialize in an area of orthopedic care such as sports medicine or trauma
medicine. Some orthopedists may specialize in several areas and may collaborate with
other specialists, such as neurosurgeons or rheumatologists, in caring for patients.
Primary care sports medicine doctor
This is a primary care doctor who has extra fellowship training in musculoskeletal
injuries and other problems that affect athletes. This type of doctor can manage many
orthopedic problems while also recognizing which cases need surgery.
A rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of arthritis and other
rheumatic diseases that may affect joints, muscles, bones, skin, and other tissues.
Most rheumatologists have a background in internal medicine or pediatrics and have
received additional training in rheumatology. Rheumatologists are specially trained
to identify many types of rheumatic diseases in their earliest stages. This includes
arthritis, many types of autoimmune diseases, musculoskeletal pain, and disorders
of the musculoskeletal system. In addition to 4 years of medical school and 3 years
of specialized training in internal medicine or pediatrics, a rheumatologist has had
an additional 2 or 3 years of specialized training in the field of rheumatology. A
rheumatologist may also be board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Physical therapy is the health profession that focuses on the neuromuscular, musculoskeletal,
and cardiopulmonary systems of the human body, as these systems relate to human motion,
health, and function.
Physical therapists ( PTs) are very important members of the healthcare team. They
evaluate and provide treatment for people with health problems resulting from injury,
disease, or overuse of muscles, ligaments, or tendons. PTs have an undergraduate degree
in physical therapy. Many have a master's degree or doctorate. All graduates must
be licensed by their state by passing a national certification exam before they can
practice. PTs work in many settings, including:
Home health agencies
Community health centers
For orthopedic conditions, PTs provide comprehensive training such as:
Balance and gait retraining
Body mechanics education
Wheelchair safety and management
Family education and training
Help with pain relief and management
Instruction in walking safely
Pre- and post-surgical rehab
Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that uses "occupation," or purposeful
activity, to help people with physical, developmental, or emotional disabilities lead
independent, productive, and satisfying lives. An occupational therapist often coordinates
these areas of care for a person with a debilitating condition, such as an orthopedic
Evaluating children and adults with developmental or neuromuscular problems to plan
treatment activities that will help them grow mentally, socially, and physically
Helping children and adults learn how to carry out daily tasks
Conducting group or individual treatment to help children and adults in a mental health
center learn to cope with daily activities
Advising changes in layout and design of the home or school so that children and adults
with injuries or disabilities have greater access and mobility
Occupational therapists work in many different settings, including:
Home care agencies
Physical medicine and rehabilitation, also known as physiatry, is a medical specialty
that helps to restore lost abilities for a person who has been disabled due to disease,
disorder, or injury. Physiatry provides integrated, multidisciplinary care aimed at
recovery of the whole person. It does this by addressing the person's physical, psychological,
medical, vocational, and social needs. The doctor who specializes in physical medicine
and rehab is called a physiatrist.
A podiatrist specializes in foot care and is licensed to prescribe medicine and do
Nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants
Other providers who specialize in the care of orthopedic conditions may help your doctor
to provide care.
Depending on the specific condition, other doctors and healthcare professionals, such
as pain specialists, may be involved in treating orthopedic conditions. For instance,
a neurologist or neurosurgeon may help treat problems affecting the spine because
of involvement of the spinal cord. Occupational therapists may be involved in treating
conditions that require rehab. Occupational therapists often work with physical therapists.