Many of us struggle with aching joints or muscle pain. Whether you have a congenital musculoskeletal condition or are recovering from a serious injury, visiting Mattalino Orthopaedic in Phoenix, AZ to consult with an orthopedic surgeon can start you on a journey to healing.
The various treatment options for your specific concerns offered by our orthopedic surgeons can vastly improve your day-to-day quality of life and bring you lasting relief from pain and discomfort. But what exactly does an orthopedic surgeon do?
What Is an Orthopedic Surgeon?
An orthopedic surgeon, or orthopedist, is a physician trained in the musculoskeletal system, or, in other words, the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in our bodies. Surgeons specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating disorders in these areas; they are also able to oversee the healing and rehabilitation process for injuries to these areas.
In most cases, orthopedic surgery is aimed not at correcting a life-or-death problem, but at increasing the quality of life of patients struggling with pain and mobility issues.
The process to become a certified orthopedist is a long and arduous journey. Following their completion of an undergraduate degree, a candidate must complete four years of study at an accredited medical school and earn their M.D. or D.O. This is followed by five years of intensive study in a highly-selective orthopedic residency program. Should a candidate wish to specialize in a specific area within orthopedics, they must complete a 1-2 year fellowship. All in all, most orthopedists are studying for over twelve years to complete their orthopedic training.
When a candidate has finished their schooling, they face the grueling process of becoming board certified, which involves a peer review and oral and written examinations. Once they demonstrate their proficiency as an orthopedist, they’ll be awarded certification from the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery; this certification must be renewed every ten years to ensure that all board-certified orthopedists are providing the very highest level of care.
Orthopedists can choose to specialize in a specific sub-area. Some of the most common are hip and knee; foot and ankle; shoulder and elbow; hand; and spine. Following board certification, these specialists can obtain a Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) by passing a separate exam.
Specific specialities can be surgery in the hand or foot; spinal, shoulder or elbow surgery; arthroplasty (total joint reconstruction); pediatric orthopedics; musculoskeletal oncology; surgical sports medicine; or orthopedic trauma. Orthopedists remain up-to-date on cutting edge technology and procedures by taking supplementary courses and re-taking exams which require renewal.
If you’ve had surgery to repair a broken bone or replace a joint which caused you daily pain, you’ve already encountered orthopedic medicine in action. These are some of the most common procedures performed by orthopedists and can result in drastically improved quality of life through lessening or completely eliminating pain and promoting healing.
However, there are many more areas in which orthopedists work. Every day, orthopedists do work to relieve conditions like:
- Back pain from ruptured disks and spinal stenosis
- Carpal tunnel, hand arthritis, and hand injuries
- Achilles tendon injuries, bunions, and foot and ankle injuries
- Club foot, bow legs, and hip dysplasia
- Orthopedic trauma and sports injuries
- Bone tumors
Your primary care physician may refer you to an orthopedist for any of the above conditions, as well as other conditions which may be improved through the involvement of an orthopedic specialist. Treatments for these conditions range from regular, repetitive exercises to reduce stiffness and pain to traditional surgery to correct painful conditions or replace joints.
What Does an Orthopedic Surgeon Do?
An orthopedist has a wide range of care to provide, from educating patients on prevention to surgery aimed at correcting painful, debilitating conditions.
For many orthopedists, educating patients about prevention is a key part of their work. Everyone is prone to developing musculoskeletal conditions on some level due to family history, work and lifestyle, and age.
Common Causes of Issues
Gaining or maintaining an unhealthy amount of weight can put you at risk for osteoarthritis. Wearing high heels on a regular basis can result in back and knee pain. Office workers who type for a living can develop carpal tunnel syndrome. And older people who don’t have the muscle mass or flexibility they once did can experience worse issues in later years if they don’t take time to do light exercises with minimal joint impact.
Reducing the Probability of a Problem
An orthopedist will generally recommend prevention at some point when administering care. If you work a physical job, you may be more prone to sprains and strains, and your orthopedist will likely recommend that you practice safe lifting techniques and be aware of any repetitive movement that could cause injury.
The same can be said for athletes, who should stretch regularly to promote flexibility and minimize risk of injury. For those who sit most of the day at work, an orthopedist may recommend regular standing and walking breaks and an ergonomic set-up at your desk.
When preventative measures are taken, patients experience healthier lives and orthopedists see fewer injuries and chronic orthopedic issues caused by a lack of education or preventative routines. Adopting simple, orthopedic-friendly routines recommended by your orthopedist into your daily life can mean the difference between a healthy, mobile life and a host of orthopedic issues down the road.
When you visit an orthopedist, you most likely have an issue in mind which you’d like to discuss. Maybe you suspect you’ve torn a ligament in your shoulder while exercising; maybe you’re experiencing unusual stiffness in your joints; maybe you have severe back pain that won’t go away.
Whatever your issue, the first step in resolving it is a diagnosis. In order to pinpoint your issue, an orthopedist will use a combination of questions and a physical exam, plus additional tests such as X-ray if needed. Once a diagnosis is made, your orthopedist can recommend appropriate treatment best suited to correcting your condition.
One way to improve your condition is orthopedic physical therapy. This can be prescribed without surgery or as a follow-up to a surgical procedure. Physical therapy focuses on increasing strength, range of motion, flexibility, endurance, balance, and functional mobility. For conditions that may be improved without surgery, such as severe sprains and strains, torn muscles or ligaments, joint pain and stiffness, and scoliosis and arthritis, your orthopedist could recommend physical therapy.
For athletes, orthopedic physical therapy is an excellent way to address routine issues and injuries experienced while active. Through dedicated therapy regimens, athletes can recover more quickly and avoid future injuries. In this way, surgery is reserved only for injuries or conditions severe enough to require it and recovery times are kept to the minimum.
There are certainly musculoskeletal conditions that can’t be properly repaired without surgery. If you’re suffering from a condition that can’t be addressed through physical therapy, your orthopedic surgeon will recommend a procedure to rectify an issue or ongoing injury. These surgeries are safe, surprisingly common, and are able to deliver results that can transform your life.
Orthopedic surgery is usually traditional, although some procedures can be completed through arthroscopy (commonly called key hole surgery). Arthroscopy is less invasive than traditional surgery and is reported to have a shorter recovery time, but both carry the risks associated with surgical procedures. Your orthopedist will choose the surgery best suited to address your specific issue.
The most common orthopedic procedure by far is the joint replacement surgery; it’s estimated that over one million total knee and total hip replacement surgeries are performed in the United States each year. Joint replacement offers a new lease on life to those who have lived with limited mobility and debilitating pain. With the completion of a physical therapy regimen to aid in healing, joint replacement surgery patients are able to live a much fuller, more active life.
Spinal and Bone Fusion
Spinal and bone fusion surgeries are intended to strengthen and repair damage to the spine and bones. Fusing spinal vertebrae together can stabilize your spine and eliminate pain from movement within the spine caused by scoliosis, herniated discs, or spinal stenosis. This procedure can also help correct damage experienced over years of working a physical job requiring lifting or twisting. Bone fusions are typically performed after a fracture and ensure that your bone will heal correctly.
Soft Tissue Surgery
Soft tissue surgery targets tendons and ligaments with significant tears. In this case, orthopedists perform surgery to reconnect soft tissue tears which are too large to heal without intervention. Combined with physical therapy to help you regain mobility and flexibility post-procedure, this surgery can correct your painful injury in a relatively short amount of time and offer lasting relief from discomfort.
Tumor Removal and Corrections
Finally, there are orthopedic oncology surgeries that remove tumors from the musculoskeletal system and osteotomy surgeries which correct deformities in the bone. There are many more orthopedic procedures as well, all of which aim to improve your life by addressing one issue at a time. Your orthopedic surgeon will be able to discuss the details of any recommended procedure with you during your visit.
Following surgery, your orthopedist will probably prescribe a physical therapy plan; some surgeries are minor enough to allow you to perform these exercises on your own, while others will require you to have a physical therapist help you through the recovery process. Your orthopedist will check on your progress throughout the recovery process and reevaluate your issues once you’re fully healed.
Once your body is totally healed, your orthopedist will likely remind you of the preventative measures you should follow to ensure that your condition does not return. Depending on the reason for your surgery, you should experience a significant improvement in your condition, which could include anything from decreased pain to restoration of total mobility.
If you’re considering seeing an orthopedic surgeon, you might be experiencing painful musculoskeletal issues for the first time, or you may have lived with a condition for years. Either way, both your health and quality of life can improve by pursuing treatment designed specifically for you. In addition, an orthopedist can help you learn more about your particular risks for orthopedic conditions, depending on your lifestyle, and take steps to prevent those issues down the road.
It’s never too late to seek professional care and advice to address your orthopedic concerns. Now is the best time to take your health into your own hands and speak to an orthopedic surgeon at Mattalino Orthopaedic in Phoenix, AZ. Reach out today to set up an initial consultation and begin your journey to a life free of pain and full of opportunities.