Although orthopedic surgery implies that most problems seen within this specialty are treated surgically, this notion is far from the truth. In fact, despite the long years of surgical training, most patient care is non-operative. Surgical options are chosen when other methods of treatment have not been effective or when the issue can only be addressed through surgical intervention and through mutual decision between the patient and the surgeon.
The specialty of orthopedics basically involves the care of the musculoskeletal system, which includes care of most disorders and injuries in the upper and lower extremities, as well as the spine and pelvis. Orthopedic surgeons have an extensive knowledge of the anatomy, mechanics, and physiology of the body as well as each muscle, nerve, and blood vessel within all parts of the musculoskeletal system. In addition, proper diagnosis and management of orthopedic injuries requires a solid grasp of forensics and physics to understand the mechanisms of injury. With an understanding of the underlying mechanisms, injury patterns can be predicted and will assist in appropriate diagnoses.
Orthopedic surgery involves more than just broken bones, dislocations, and sprains. It covers a wide array of problems, including conditions that may be congenital, acquired, or simply idiopathic (meaning of unknown origin). The list of orthopedic pathology is quite long and diverse, but a sampling of the diagnoses includes musculoskeletal infections, bone dysplasias, arthritis, neuromuscular disorders, pediatric deformities, meniscus and tendon tears, ligament sprains, tendonitis, joint instability, bunions, hammertoes, gout, diabetic foot wounds, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger fingers, rheumatoid arthritis, Dupuytren disease, nerve injuries, musculoskeletal neoplasms, gait disturbance, and osteoporosis.
Because orthopedics covers such a broad array of disorders and injuries, which requires an extensive knowledge base, it has been divided into many subspecialties. Many orthopedists practice general orthopedics and take care of a variety of common injuries and disorders. Other surgeons choose to sub-specialize in areas such as sports medicine, shoulder and elbow, foot and ankle, upper extremity, adult reconstruction and pediatric orthopedics to name a few.
The real joy of orthopedics is the ability to help people with painful disorders and injuries, usually in a very short time period so that they may return to the activities in their lives that they enjoy with reduced or eliminated pain and increased function.