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,
and including 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 chronic and change over
time. Some of the more common medical professionals involved in the treatment of 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 are those
who provide patients with any/all of the following:
Routine healthcare (including annual physical exams and immunizations)
Treatment for acute medical conditions
Initial care for conditions that may become more serious or chronic in nature
While your primary care doctor may treat and diagnose your disease, he or she may
refer you to a specialist for more specialized treatment of certain aspects of a disease.
This doctor specializes in orthopedic surgery. He or she 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, treat an injury, provide
rehabilitation, 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.
Other 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 the field of 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, or 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, and 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 may practice in a variety of settings, including:
Home health agencies
Community health centers
As related to 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 rehabilitation
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 the following in the care for a person
with a debilitating condition, such as an orthopedic condition:
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
Recommending changes in layout and design of the home or school to allow children
and adults with injuries or disabilities greater access and mobility
Occupational therapists work in a variety of different settings, including:
Home care agencies
Physical medicine and rehabilitation, also known as physiatry, is a medical specialty
that involves the process of restoring lost abilities for a person who has been disabled
as a result of disease, disorder, or injury. Physiatry provides integrated, multidisciplinary
care aimed at recovery of the whole person by addressing the patient's physical, psychological,
medical, vocational, and social needs. The doctor who specializes in physical medicine
and rehabilitation is called a physiatrist.
A podiatrist specializes in foot care and is licensed to prescribe medicine and perform
Nurses/nurse practitioners and physician assistants
Other providers who specialize in the care of orthopedic conditions may assist your doctor
in providing care.
Depending on the specific condition involved, other doctors and healthcare professionals,
such as pain specialists, may be involved in treating orthopedic conditions. For example,
a neurologist or neurosurgeon may help treat problems involving the spine because
of involvement of the spinal cord. Occupational therapists may be involved in treating
conditions that require rehabilitation. Occupational therapists often work with physical