Orthopaedics is the medical specialty devoted to the diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and prevention of injuries and diseases of your body's musculoskeletal system. This complex system includes your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves and allows you to move, work and be active.

Once devoted to the care of children with spine and limb deformities, orthopaedics now cares for patients of all ages, from newborns with clubfeet to young athletes requiring arthroscopic surgery to older people with arthritis. And anybody can break a bone.

Why we call it "orthopaedics"

Since its origins, specialists in orthopaedics have treated children suffering from spine and limb deformities. The Greek roots of orthopaedics are ortho (straight) and pais (child). Early orthopaedists often used braces or other forms of treatment to make the child "straight."

The orthopaedist

Orthopaedists manage special problems of many regions of the musculoskeletal system. Orthopaedists are skilled in:

  • Diagnosis of injuries and disorders
  • Treatment with medication, exercise, surgery or other treatment plans
  • Rehabilitation by recommending exercises or physical therapy to restore movement, strength and function
  • Prevention with information and treatment plans to prevent injury or slow the progression of diseases

While some orthopaedists practice general orthopaedics, many may specialize in treating the foot, hand, shoulder, spine, hip, knee, and others in pediatrics, trauma or sports medicine. Some orthopaedists may specialize in several areas.

Orthopaedic surgeons complete up to 14 years of formal education.

  • Four years of study in a college or university
  • Four years of study in medical school
  • Five years of study in orthopaedic residency at a major medical center
  • One optional year of specialized education, called a fellowship

After establishing a licensed practice, an orthopaedic surgeon must demonstrate a mastery of orthopaedic knowledge by passing both oral and written examinations given by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Each year an orthopaedist spends significant hours studying and attending continuing medical education courses to maintain current orthopaedic knowledge and skills.