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Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic Surgeon



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It only takes seconds to suffer an injury that can lead to years of painful recovery. A car accident, a fall from a ladder, a sports injury — they happen fast but can have devastating consequences. After a visit to the E.R. or your regular care physician, your next stop will likely be to an orthopedic surgeon.But what do orthopedic surgeons do? When should you see one, and how do you go about getting an appointment? Keep reading to learn more.

What Do Orthopedic Surgeons Do?

Orthopedic surgeons, as the name suggests, are surgeons who specialize in treating the musculoskeletal system. This isn’t to be confused with the skeletal system, which consists of only your bones. Instead, the musculoskeletal system consists of your body’s bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles — in short, all of the elements that go into helping your body move.

Your body has more than 200 bones, as well as a wide variety of muscles, specialized joints, and ligaments. For orthopedic surgeons, this means that they have to be experts on a wide variety of types of bones, ligaments, muscles, and joints, as well as the conditions and injuries that affect them.

Because of this wide variety, most orthopedic surgeons opt to sub-specialize. Instead of focusing on the entire musculoskeletal system, they become experts in one specific area. For instance, an orthopedic surgeon might opt to specialize in joint care. In that case, they’ll treat patients suffering from knee or hip pain, injuries, or conditions like arthritis.

Regardless of their specialty, all orthopedic surgeons perform similar key services, including:

  • Diagnosing conditions, illnesses, and injuries
  • Recommending and carrying out treatment
  • Offering plans for prevention for future injuries or conditions
  • If an injury or condition falls outside of their specialty, they may also refer a patient to another orthopedic specialist

What is the Difference Between an Orthopedic Surgeon and an Orthopedic Specialist?

While the titles are often used interchangeably, there is actually a difference between orthopedic surgeons and orthopedic specialists. An orthopedic specialist is someone who is trained to assess injuries or conditions and to offer a diagnosis and treatment options. Specialists will often attempt to treat the condition or injury using non-surgery, non-invasive treatments first.

All orthopedic surgeons are orthopedic specialists. This means that they are qualified to offer treatment options that include surgery or non-invasive treatments. However, not all orthopedic specialists are surgeons. So if an individual is an orthopedic specialist but not an orthopedic surgeon, they are not qualified to operate on a patient. Instead, they can only treat patients using non-invasive procedures.

In most cases, patients will see an orthopedic specialist first. This will give them a chance to get a diagnosis and discuss their treatment options. If non-invasive treatments are an option, these will often be tried first. If those treatments are ineffective, the patient may then require surgery. In some cases, injuries may require surgery right from the start if it’s unlikely that non-invasive options will provide any form of relief.

When to See a Surgeon or Specialist

In most cases, your primary care physician or even an emergency room doctor will recommend that you visit an orthopedic surgeon or specialist. However, in some cases, you may decide on your own that you need to see one.

Some common conditions and injuries that you might seek help from an orthopedic specialist for include:

  • Foot and ankle pain
  • Back pain, and especially lower back pain
  • Joint pain or joint injuries
  • Neck pain and lasting stiffness
  • Soft tissue injuries like strains or sprains

In most cases, injuries or conditions that don’t heal on their own or that cause persistent pain may require a visit to an orthopedic surgeon or specialist. Going to a primary care doctor first will help ensure that you get a referral to a specialist who is equipped to help you get the treatment that you need.

How to See an Orthopedic Surgeon

Visiting an orthopedic surgeon is a bit different than visiting your primary care physician. When you need to see your normal primary care provider for an illness or a routine check-up, you call the office and schedule an appointment. However, this may not be an option with an orthopedic surgeon.

Instead, in most cases, patients need a referral from their primary care physician first. If you’ve suffered an injury, perhaps because of a sports injury or a car accident, you may go to the emergency room first. They will provide immediate treatment, like putting your arm in a cast or providing pain killers. Then, they’ll likely recommend that you follow up with your primary care doctor.

From there, your primary care doctor will look at your injuries, and determine whether you need to see a specialist. They will provide a referral that you can then use to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. If you are suffering from a joint, muscle, or bone injury or ongoing pain and haven’t received a referral, you may be able to contact an orthopedic surgeon’s office on your own to see about getting an initial appointment.

However, keep in mind that not all orthopedic surgeons are prepared to treat all types of injuries or conditions. It is important to see an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treating the type of injury or condition that you’re suffering from.

Seeing an Orthopedic Surgeon After an Accident

If you’ve been the victim of a car accident and suffered an injury that required a visit to an orthopedic specialist or even surgery, who pays for your medical expenses?

In a no-fault state, these costs will fall on your own insurance. However, a personal injury lawyer may be able to help you get compensation for your injuries. Outside of a no-fault state, a personal injury lawyer will help handle communications with insurance companies, compile medical records, and otherwise help ensure that your bills get paid properly while you focus on recovery. They’ll also help you fight for compensation for your pain and suffering, as well as for lost wages and other expenses incurred as a result of the accident.


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