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What is Orthopedic Medicine?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Orthopedic medicine is a branch of medicine which is concerned with the functioning of the musculoskeletal system. Specialists in this field are familiar with conditions which affect the bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles, and they can use a wide variety of techniques to address these conditions. Many practitioners in orthopedics are orthopedic surgeons, although they may not necessarily use surgery in all cases, while others choose to specialize in non-surgical interventions including preventative medicine.

Essentially, orthopedic medicine is like the medicine of moving parts. In the preventative realm, orthopedics focuses on teaching people how to move safely and properly. Athletes, hard laborers, and other people who strain their bodies on a regular basis often take advantage of an orthopedic physician to prevent serious injuries on the job. Preventative measures can range from specific stretches to the use of braces and other supports which are designed to prevent injury.

When an injury does emerge, an orthopedic specialist can decide on the best course of treatment. Injuries can range from trauma causing torn ligaments and broken bones to degenerative diseases which lead to joint inflammation. Medications, physical therapy, corrective braces, traction, and surgery may all be used to address specific medical conditions. Orthopedic surgery has grown quite advanced, including everything from setting and pinning broken bones to totally replacing joints like the knee.

The goal of most orthopedic practitioners is to keep their patients healthy, with a sound musculoskeletal system. Preventative medicine is a big part of some practices, since orthopedic injuries can cause chronic problems, and it is better to avoid them, if possible. Treatment programs usually include lengthy periods of physical therapy and retraining to prevent the recurrence of an injury, along with regular checkups to confirm that the site of an injury is healing properly. This is especially critical in the case of degenerative orthopedic injuries, which need to be monitored closely for the early signs of a recurrence.

To become an orthopedic doctor, someone must attend medical school and several years of residency. Typically, the residency in orthopedic medicine lasts for four years, and a doctor can choose to pursue additional training and eventual certification in a subspecialty like sports medicine if he or she desires. Some practitioners of orthopedic medicine are more interested in alternative medicine, in which case they may pursue certification in chiropractic, massage, and other disciplines which are designed to treat the musculoskeletal system. These practitioners are not doctors, but they can provide valuable care, especially if they work with a physician.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By David09 — On May 25, 2011

@NathanG - Unless your doctor recommended cortisone treatments, I would hold off. Cortisone should only be used for extreme conditions that don’t respond to regular treatments. You are right that it weakens muscles.

If your muscles are already weak, it could your muscles to snap. A doctor may suggest aspirin or some other approach to reduce inflammation. Just stay with the exercises and ice packs unless you are directed otherwise.

By NathanG — On May 22, 2011

I had tendinitis for quite some time and had to see an orthopaedic specialist. He gave me some general exercises to perform and suggested heat and ice therapy to aid in reducing inflammation and swelling. It’s helped a lot. I’ve considered whether I should get cortisone treatment but I’ve heard that this kind of thing weakens your muscles over time. I’m just wondering if anyone else has any opinions on this.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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