What are the Different Types of Orthopedic Doctors?

What are the Different Types of Orthopedic Doctors?

by Holly (SU)

Orthopedics is the medical subspecialty that focuses on the diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system, the interconnected and multifaceted structure comprised of the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves, joints, and tendons.

The name is rooted in Greek terminology – coming from “ortho” or straight, and “paes” or child; however, today the medical field features doctors focused on many specific modalities and caters to those with a diverse set of concerns. The occupational outlook is quite bright, as well – with the field poised to grow 24 percent in the next 10 years. 

Mitigating musculoskeletal maladies can be tricky for those suffering from them but understanding the difference between each doctor’s subspecialty will allow you to select the one right for you.

Orthopedic Doctors

Medical orthopedists, or orthopedic doctors, concentrate on treating patients through the use of noninvasive or nonsurgical techniques. Sports injuries such as sprains, fractures, and strains might land you in their chair. Repetitive stress injuries, arthritis, and osteoporosis – which all tend to develop later in life – may also make you a candidate for their services. Utilizing a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, they can prescribe medications, teach physical therapy exercises for improving range of motion and strength, and help you make healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Orthopedic Surgeons

After diagnosis and treatment, an orthopedist may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon should surgical measures need to be taken. However, many surgeons in this field also utilize nonsurgical or alternative methods. Surgeons often decide to focus on a subspecialty such as the spine, shoulder, feet and ankles, hand, or hips and knees. Extensively educated, the physicians in this field have completed rigorous coursework, with up to 14 years of formal training. 

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, there are a variety of procedures performed in this field – from arthroscopy (which uses a camera to visualize problems inside the joints) to joint replacement (the use of prosthetics to replace damaged parts). 

Harkening back to the field’s roots, pediatric surgeons specialize in complex conditions and birth defects affecting children. Clubfoot, spina bifida, scoliosis, and broken or infected bones are all reasons patients might seek the advice of the pediatric surgeon. The procedures in this field are so precise they often require supplemental training beyond that of a traditional orthopedic surgeon. 

Often Seen in Conjunction with Orthopedics 

Radiologists work in tandem with orthopedic doctors to capture and decipher high-resolution images of damaged joints in the body. Qualified to operate and read many types of medical imaging, they employ the use of X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) scans, fusion imaging, and ultrasound to help treat a multitude of diseases.

While orthopedic physicians are more equipped to treat injury-related pain, rheumatologists are a subset of doctors with a primary focus on diseases of the joints and soft tissue – such as arthritis and lupus. If your pain lingers throughout the body, or you are experiencing new pain unrelated to any injury, you may want to visit a rheumatology specialist.

Your primary care physician will refer you to the specialist who can most effectively treat what’s ailing you.

Watauga Orthopaedics houses an impressive roster of board-certified orthopedic doctors with specialties in every subset of the field. Whether you’re a weekend warrior who’s suffered a sports injury, or need a total joint replacement, Watauga Orthopaedics is a one-stop shop. For more information, or schedule a consultation, call (423) 282-9011.