Orthopedic (sometimes spelled orthopaedic) surgery corrects problems that arise in the skeleton and its attachments, the ligaments and tendons. It may also deal with some problems of the nervous system, such as those that arise from injury of the spine. These problems can occur at birth, through injury, oras the result of aging.
Medical doctors trained to deal with such problems are called orthopedic surgeons or orthopedists (the terms are used interchangeably). The word "orthopedic"comes from two Greek words, ortho, meaning straight and pais, meaning child. Originally orthopedic surgeons dealt with bone deformities in children, using braces to straighten the child's bones. With the development modern surgical techniques, orthopedic surgeons expanded their role to include surgery involving the bones and related nerves and connective tissue.
Some orthopedic surgeons specialize in one particular aspect of orthopedics,such as hand surgery, joint replacements, or disorders of the spine. Others specialize in trauma medicine and can be found in emergency rooms and trauma centers treating injuries. The work of orthopedists can overlap with that of plastic surgeons, geriatric specialists, pediatricians, or podiatrists (foot care specialists). A rapidly growing area of orthopedics is sports medicine, and many sports medicine doctors are board certified orthopedists.
Choosing an orthopedist is an important step in seeking treatment. Patients looking for a qualified orthopedist should ask if the physician is "board certified" by his or her accrediting organization.
The kinds of treatments done by orthopedists range from traction to amputation, hand reconstruction to spinal fusion or joint replacements. They also treat broken bones, strains and sprains, and dislocations. Some specific procedures done by orthopedic surgeons are covered as separate entries in this book,including arthroscopic surgery, bone grafting, and traction.
Orthopedists usually are affiliated with hospitals, medical centers, trauma centers, or free-standing surgical centers where they work closely with surgical teams including anesthesiologists and surgical nurses. Orthopedic surgerycan be performed under general, regional, or local anesthesia.
Much of the work of the surgeon involves adding foreign material to the bodyin the form of screws, wires, pins, tongs, and prosthetics to hold damaged bones in their proper places or to replace damaged bone or connective tissue. Great improvements have been made in the development of artificial limbs and joints, and in the materials available to repair damage to bones and connective tissue. As developments continue in the fields of materials science and tissue engineering, surgeons will be able to more nearly duplicate the natural functions of the bones, joints, and ligaments, and to more accurately restoredamaged parts to their original range of motion.
As with any surgery, there is always a risk of excessive bleeding, infection,and allergic reaction to anesthesia. Risks specifically associated with orthopedic surgery include inflammation at the site where foreign material (pins,prosthesis) is introduced into the body, infection as the result of surgery,and damage to nerves or to the spinal cord.
Rehabilitation from orthopedic injuries or surgery can be a long, arduous task. The doctor will work closely with physical therapists to assure that the patient gets the proper treatment to enhance range of motion and return function to the affected part.
Thousands of people have successful orthopedic surgery each year to recover from injuries or restore lost function. The likelihood of success for dependson the age and general health of the patient, the medical problem being treated, and the patient's willingness to comply with rehabilitative therapy afterthe surgery.