What does an orthopedist do?

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What is an Orthopedist?

An orthopedist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. These conditions can affect the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves of the body. Orthopedists are trained to provide comprehensive care for patients of all ages, from newborns with congenital deformities to older adults with degenerative joint diseases.

Orthopedists employ a variety of treatment modalities to address musculoskeletal issues, including medication, physical therapy, injections, orthotic devices, and minimally invasive procedures. They work closely with patients to develop personalized treatment plans that address their unique needs and goals, with the aim of relieving pain, restoring function, and improving quality of life. Whether treating fractures, arthritis, sports injuries, or other orthopedic conditions, orthopedists play a vital role in helping patients maintain mobility, independence, and overall musculoskeletal health.

What does an Orthopedist do?

An orthopedist looking at an X-ray.

Duties and Responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of an orthopedist focus on providing care for musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. These responsibilities may include:

  • Diagnosis and Evaluation: Orthopedists evaluate patients with musculoskeletal complaints, such as joint pain, back pain, or sports injuries. They conduct thorough physical examinations, review medical histories, and order diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, MRI scans, or blood tests, to accurately diagnose the underlying condition.
  • Treatment Planning: Based on their evaluation and diagnosis, orthopedists develop individualized treatment plans tailored to each patient's specific needs and goals. Treatment options may include non-surgical interventions such as medication, physical therapy, injections, orthotic devices, and lifestyle modifications to manage pain, improve mobility, and prevent further progression of musculoskeletal conditions.
  • Patient Education and Counseling: Orthopedists educate patients about their musculoskeletal conditions, treatment options, and self-care strategies. They provide guidance on preventive measures, exercises, and ergonomic principles to promote musculoskeletal health and prevent injuries. Orthopedists also counsel patients on the importance of adherence to treatment plans and the expected outcomes of non-surgical interventions.
  • Collaboration and Referrals: Orthopedists collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, primary care physicians, and orthopedic surgeons, to coordinate comprehensive care for patients with complex musculoskeletal issues. They may refer patients to orthopedic surgeons or other specialists for further evaluation or surgical management if non-surgical interventions are ineffective or if surgical intervention is indicated.
  • Follow-up Care: Orthopedists provide ongoing monitoring and follow-up care to assess patients' progress, adjust treatment plans as needed, and address any complications or concerns. They may schedule regular follow-up appointments to track recovery, monitor the effectiveness of treatment, and make modifications to the treatment plan as necessary to optimize outcomes and improve patient satisfaction.

Types of Orthopedists
Orthopedic specialists encompass a diverse range of practitioners who diagnose, treat, and manage musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. Here are some types of orthopedists:

  • Foot and Ankle Specialists: Foot and ankle specialists focus on the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the feet and ankles, including fractures, sprains, arthritis, and deformities such as bunions and hammertoes. They provide both non-surgical and surgical interventions to restore function and mobility to the lower extremities.
  • Hand Surgeons: Hand surgeons specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the hands and upper extremities. They perform surgical procedures to address issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, tendon injuries, fractures, and congenital hand deformities.
  • Orthopedic Surgeons: Orthopedic surgeons specialize in surgical interventions to address musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. They perform procedures such as fracture repair, joint replacement surgery (e.g., hip replacement, knee replacement), arthroscopic surgery, spinal surgery, and soft tissue reconstruction.
  • Pediatric Orthopedists: Pediatric orthopedists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions in children and adolescents. They address issues such as developmental disorders, congenital deformities, growth plate injuries, and pediatric fractures, providing specialized care tailored to the unique needs of young patients.
  • Spine Specialists: Spine specialists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the spine, including spinal disorders, degenerative diseases, spinal deformities, and spinal cord injuries. They may include orthopedic spine surgeons, neurosurgeons, and non-surgical spine specialists who provide comprehensive care for patients with spinal conditions.
  • Sports Medicine Specialists: Sports medicine specialists focus on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sports-related injuries and conditions. They may include orthopedic surgeons with specialized training in sports medicine, as well as non-surgical sports medicine physicians who provide comprehensive care for athletes of all ages and skill levels.

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What is the workplace of an Orthopedist like?

Many orthopedists work in hospitals, where they may be employed by medical centers, academic institutions, or large healthcare systems. In hospital settings, orthopedists typically have access to advanced diagnostic equipment, surgical facilities, and specialized orthopedic units for the treatment of patients with musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. They may also collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and orthopedic surgeons, to provide multidisciplinary care for patients with complex orthopedic issues.

Orthopedists may also work in private practice settings, either independently or as part of a group practice with other orthopedic specialists. In a private practice, orthopedists have their own clinics or offices where they see patients for consultations, examinations, and follow-up appointments. They may perform surgical procedures in outpatient surgery centers or hospital-affiliated surgical suites, depending on the complexity of the procedure and patient needs. Private practice orthopedists have the flexibility to tailor their practice to their interests and preferences, offering specialized care in areas such as sports medicine, joint replacement, spine surgery, or pediatric orthopedics.

Additionally, orthopedists may be involved in academic medicine, teaching, and research at medical schools or academic medical centers. They may hold faculty positions, conduct clinical research studies, and participate in continuing medical education (CME) activities to stay updated on the latest advancements and evidence-based practices in orthopedic medicine. Academic orthopedists have access to state-of-the-art facilities and resources for teaching, research, and patient care, as well as opportunities for professional development and collaboration with other healthcare professionals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctor Specializations and Degrees

The following is a comprehensive list of the various specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Orthopedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Telemedicine Physician: A telemedicine physician provides remote healthcare services to patients using telecommunications technology, facilitating virtual consultations, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.
  • Veterinary Dentist - A veterinary dentist is a specialized veterinarian who focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dental diseases and conditions in animals. They perform dental procedures such as cleanings, extractions, and oral surgeries to improve the oral health and well-being of pets and other animals.


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See Also
Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Cardiothoracic Surgeon Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Emergency Medicine Physician Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Internist Medical Examiner Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Oncologist Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopedic Surgeon Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pathologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Psychiatrist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist Veterinary Dentist Telemedicine Physician

Orthopedist vs Orthopedic Surgeon

The terms "orthopedist" and "orthopedic surgeon" are often used interchangeably to refer to medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and surgical management of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. However, there can be a subtle distinction between the two terms:

An "orthopedist" is a broad term used to describe any physician who practices in the field of orthopedics, regardless of whether they perform surgical procedures. Orthopedists may include medical doctors (MDs) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) who specialize in orthopedic medicine and provide non-surgical interventions such as medication, physical therapy, injections, and orthotic devices to manage musculoskeletal conditions.

On the other hand, an "orthopedic surgeon" specifically refers to a medical doctor who has completed specialized training in orthopedic surgery and is qualified to perform surgical procedures to treat musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. While all orthopedic surgeons are orthopedists, not all orthopedists are surgeons. Orthopedic surgeons undergo additional training beyond medical school and residency to develop expertise in surgical techniques for repairing fractures, replacing joints, reconstructing ligaments, and addressing other complex orthopedic problems.

In summary, while both orthopedists and orthopedic surgeons are medical doctors who specialize in the field of orthopedics, the term "orthopedist" may encompass a broader range of practitioners who provide non-surgical care, while "orthopedic surgeon" specifically denotes a physician who performs surgical interventions to treat musculoskeletal conditions.

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Orthopedists are also known as:
Orthopedic Specialist Orthopedic Physician