February 20, 2024

The medical world is pretty complex. There are all sorts of different doctors out there, each with their own specialties. It can be tough to keep them all straight! When it comes to back and spine problems, you might wonder: what is an ortho doctor?

Maybe you or a loved one was given a referral, or maybe you’re just here because you’re a curious person. Whatever the reason, we’ll give you a crash course on orthopedic back & spine doctors. You’ll learn what they do, what kinds of conditions they treat, and how they can help you get your life back to normal!

What is Orthopedics?

Unless you’re someone that happens to know a lot about medicine, there’s a good chance that you don’t know what an orthopedic doctor or surgeon does. Even if you study etymology this could be pretty confusing because the word “orthopedics” comes from two Greek words. 

The first, “orthos,” means “straight” or “correct.” The second word, “paideia,” refers to children. So when you put these together, orthopedics literally means straight child – which doesn’t make a lot of sense!

In order to understand what orthopedic doctors do, it’s important to know a little bit about the musculoskeletal system. So, what is the musculoskeletal system? Let’s take a look at its core components and what each does: 

  • Bones: 
    • These give our bodies structure and support; protect our organs; store minerals 
  • Joints: 
    • This is where two or more bones come together; allow us to move 
  • Muscles: 
    • These attach to bones and help them move – Ligaments: connect bone to bone; provide stability 
  • Tendons: 
    • These connect muscle to bone

The musculoskeletal system is responsible for a lot! It’s no wonder that problems with any of these components can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. That’s where orthopedic surgeons come in. They’re experts in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system.

There are a few specialties within orthopedics, and those are: 

  • Back and spine 
  • Sports medicine 
  • Shoulder and elbow 
  • Hand and wrist 
  • Hip and knee 
  • Foot and ankle

Most orthopedic practitioners will be experts in one or more of these areas. For example, an orthopedic surgeon that specializes in the hip and knee might only treat patients with conditions affecting those joints. 

On the other hand (no pun intended), an orthopedic surgeon that specializes in sports medicine might treat all sorts of different injuries, ranging from broken bones to torn ligaments

The Types of Orthopedic Treatments

There are a lot of different orthopedic treatments available, and which one is right for you will depend on your specific condition. Some common treatments include:  

  • Physical therapy: 
    • This can help to strengthen the muscles and improve the range of motion. It can also help to reduce pain. 
  • Occupational therapy: 
    • This can help you learn how to do everyday tasks in a way that doesn’t aggravate your condition. 
  • Surgery: 
    • In some cases, surgery might be necessary in order to correct the problem. 
  • Medication: 
    • Pain medication or other drugs might be prescribed in order to manage pain or inflammation.

In most cases, conservative treatment options will be tried first before moving on to something more invasive like surgery. However, there are some instances where surgery might be recommended right away. For example, if you have a broken bone that needs to be set, then surgery would likely be the best course of action. 

Your orthopedic doctor will be able to discuss all of your treatment options with you and help you to choose the best course of action. They will take into consideration your age, overall health, and the severity of your condition.

In some cases, more than one type of treatment might be recommended. For example, you might need physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles around a joint that has been damaged by arthritis. You might also be prescribed medication to help manage pain and inflammation.

It’s important to keep in mind that orthopedic treatments can take some time to work. For example, it might take several weeks or even months for physical therapy exercises to start having an effect. And it can sometimes take months or even years for surgery to fully heal. Patience is important!

Sometimes the best thing you can do is just hunker down and wait it out. But other times, you might need to be more proactive in your own recovery. For example, you might need to do at-home exercises in addition to physical therapy. Or you might need to take medication as prescribed and come back for follow-up appointments. 

When Should You See an Orthopedic Doctor? 

It can be hard to know when to see the doctor, let alone a specialty doctor like an orthopedic surgeon. After all, most of us have been told time and time again that we should only see the doctor when we’re sick. But what if you’re not exactly sure what’s wrong?

There are a few different scenarios in which it might be a good idea to see an orthopedic doctor. For example, if you’ve been injured in an accident or you’re experiencing chronic pain, then it’s worth making an appointment. 

Other times, you might notice that your joints are starting to stiffen up or that your range of motion is decreasing. These could be signs of arthritis or other problems with the musculoskeletal system.

There are a lot of pretty serious orthopedic conditions. Let’s take a look at a few specific ones: 

  • Arthritis: 
    • This is a condition that causes inflammation in the joints. It can be extremely painful and make it difficult to move around. 
  • Osteoporosis: 
    • This is a condition that causes the bones to become weak and brittle. It’s particularly common in older women, but it can affect anyone. 
  • Scoliosis: 
    • This is a condition where the spine starts to curve sideways. It can cause pain and difficulty moving around. 
  • Spinal stenosis: 
    • This is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. It can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Bone fractures: 
    • This is when a bone is broken. It can happen due to an injury or from something like osteoporosis. 

These are just a few examples of orthopedic conditions. If you’re experiencing any pain or problems with movement, then it’s worth seeing an orthopedic doctor to find out what’s going on. They will be able to diagnose your condition and recommend the best course of treatment.

It’s important to keep in mind that orthopedic doctors aren’t just for people with serious problems. Even if you’re just having some minor aches and pains, it might be worth making an appointment. After all, it’s better to catch things early on before they become bigger issues!

If you’re not sure whether or not you should see an orthopedic doctor, make sure to schedule an appointment with your general practice doctor. They’ll be able to accurately assess your symptoms and give you a referral if necessary. 

What Asking Your Doctor for a Referral Looks Like

If you think that you might need to see an orthopedic doctor, the first step is to schedule an appointment with your general practice doctor. As we mentioned, they will be able to assess your symptoms and determine whether or not a referral is necessary.

In most cases, your GP will be able to give you a referral without any problems. However, there are some instances where they might not feel comfortable doing so. 

For example, if they don’t think that your symptoms warrant seeing a specialist, then they might refer you back to physical therapy, give you a prescription, or suggest over-the-counter medication instead.

It’s important to trust your GP’s judgment in these situations! They know what’s best for you and they want what’s best for you too. That is, after all, most of their job and what they went to school for.

 However, if you really feel like seeing an orthopedic surgeon is necessary, then don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion from another GP or even from the specialist themselves.

Keep in mind that asking for a referral to an orthopedic doctor doesn’t mean that you’re going to automatically get surgery. In most cases, your GP will refer you to a specialist for a specific reason. For example, they might want you to get a second opinion on a diagnosis or they might want you to try physical therapy first.

Understanding Specialty Medicine

Knowing what kinds of doctors are out there can be helpful in understanding what your options are and what each doctor can do for you. In the case of back and spine problems, an orthopedic doctor is someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system.

If you’re experiencing pain or problems with movement, then it’s worth seeing an orthopedic doctor to find out what’s going on. They will be able to diagnose your condition and recommend the best course of treatment, and that can be a lot of help when you’re not feeling your best.