Orthopaedics is the branch of medicine concerned with injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system, which comprises the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves.
You may be referred to an orthopaedic consultant for treatment of an injury such as a bone fracture, a deformity of the spine or limbs, or a long-term condition that has developed over many years, such as arthritis.
Orthopaedic specialists treat patients of all ages – from newborns and children with deformities such as club foot or scoliosis, to young athletes needing arthroscopic surgery (see below), to older people with joint problems.
What do orthopaedic specialists do?
Most consultants who work in orthopaedics work alongside general surgeons in emergency care. They may:
- Diagnose injuries or disorders using X-rays, blood tests or other tests.
- Treat these injuries or conditions with medication or surgery.
- Recommend exercises or physiotherapy to restore movement, strength and functionality.
The vast majority also have a specialist interest – this may be in a particular orthopaedic condition, an area of the body or in a field such as paediatrics or sport surgery.
What sort of operations do they perform?
Some of the most common operations orthopaedic surgeons perform include:
- Arthoscopy – a minimally invasive (keyhole) technique that involves inserting probes into a joint to diagnose and repair damaged joint tissue, such as cartilage damage.
- Repairing bone fractures – for more information, read about the treatment of a:
- Arthroplasty – surgery used to replace whole joints, usually because of arthritis. Hip replacements and knee replacements are the most common operations.
- Repairing damaged muscles, torn tendons or torn ligaments.
- Corrective surgery – procedures to correct deformities of the spine or limbs that either limit function or would cause long-term problems if left. Examples are fusion surgery (where bones are welded together to heal into a single, solid bone) and osteotomy (correcting a bone deformity by cutting and repositioning the bone).