What do orthopedic doctors treat?

Written by valerie dansereau
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What do orthopedic doctors treat?
Orthopedists treat problems with bones and joints. (radio image by fotografiche.eu from Fotolia.com)

Orthopaedic doctors specialise in diagnosis and treatment of problems of the musculoskeletal system, such as diseases or injuries of bones, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves and muscles. Some but not all orthopaedic doctors perform surgery on injured parts of the musculoskeletal system. Orthopaedic doctors strive to help patients achieve maximum function of the musculoskeletal system using medications, physical therapy and surgery.

The Facts

Orthopedists treat a wide variety of bone and joint problems. They treat traumas such as broken bones, sprained ankles and sports injuries. They also treat degenerative conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis, along with infections and bone cancer. Patients who have congenital musculoskeletal deformities may consult an orthopaedic doctor for treatment. These doctors work in a variety of settings, such as small private practices, hospitals and clinics.


Certain problems with the musculoskeletal system require doctors who have received very advanced training in this area. Many members of the health care team work closely with orthopaedic doctors and refer patients to them when necessary. For example, primary care physicians and emergency room physicians may refer patients to orthopaedic specialists. Physical therapists and occupational therapists may work closely with orthopaedic doctors.


Becoming a physician requires four years of undergraduate study, usually focusing on science, followed by four years of medical school. Candidates to become doctors must pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam. Following graduation from medical school, most doctors complete a residency or internship. A residency is a form of paid on-the-job training. According to the University of Iowa, most candidates to become orthopaedic doctors complete a residency in orthopaedics lasting five years. Certification from the American Board of Medical Specialties can be obtained after residency has been completed and by passing written and oral exams.


Some physicians specialise in a particular type of orthopaedics. Examples of specialities include joint replacement and reconstruction, sports medicine, musculoskeletal oncology and paediatric orthopaedics. Some orthopaedic doctors specialise in research or teaching.

Orthopaedic Surgeons

Some orthopaedic doctors receive additional training and become orthopaedic surgeons. Orthopaedic surgeons treat musculoskeletal problems that require surgical intervention, such as bone tumours, club foot, spine disorders and dislocations. Doctors wishing to specialise in orthopaedic surgery usually complete a residency of 1 year general surgery specialisation followed by 4 years training in orthopaedic surgery. Orthopaedic surgeons may focus on just one type of surgery, such as back surgery or joint replacement.

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