What Is an Orthopedic Doctor?

What Is an Orthopedic Doctor

If you’ve heard the term “orthopedic doctor” and been unsure what this type of provider does, you’re not alone. An orthopedic doctor (sometimes referred to as an “orthopedist”) is a doctor—either a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO)—who specializes in conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system, which includes the:

  • Bones
  • Joints
  • Ligaments (which attach bones to other bones)
  • Muscles
  • Tendons (which attach muscles to bones)
  • Nerves

Some orthopedic doctors specialize in a particular area of the body, like the spine, hands, or feet.

Conditions Treated by an Orthopedic Doctor

Orthopedic doctors treat a wide array of conditions, including both acute and chronic afflictions.

Acute Conditions

An acute condition is one that develops suddenly (usually when someone injures him- or herself). Orthopedic doctors regularly treat the following acute conditions:

  • Dislocations – When a bone is dislocated, it means that it’s forced out of its normal position in a joint, usually due to a hard impact. Orthopedic doctors can often ease the bone back into place, although in some cases surgery may be necessary.
  • Fractures – The term “fracture” refers to a broken bone. There are numerous different types of fractures, and treatment will depend on the type in question. But in general, orthopedic doctors will realign the broken fragments and then immobilize the area so that the bone can naturally heal itself.
  • Sprains – A sprain involves the stretching or tearing of a ligament (unlike strains, which involve stretched or torn muscles or tendons). Orthopedic doctors often treat sprains using conservative methods—like bracing, compression, elevation, and physical therapy—but surgery may be necessary when a ligament is completely torn.

Chronic Conditions

Chronic conditions tend to develop more gradually and last longer than acute conditions. The following are some of the most common chronic conditions treated by orthopedic doctors:

  • Arthritis – Although there are more than 100 types of arthritis, the most common is osteoarthritis, and it’s characterized by the gradual breakdown of cartilage. Orthopedic doctors often treat osteoarthritis with conservative methods, but joint repair or replacement surgery may be necessary in more severe cases.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – When the tissues around the carpal tunnel become swollen, they can exert pressure on the median nerve, which can in turn cause pain, numbness, weakness, tingling, and a burning sensation in the forearm, wrist, and hand. While carpal tunnel syndrome can often be treated conservatively, it sometimes requires surgery.
  • Degenerative spine conditions – This is an umbrella term that includes bone spurs, bulging and herniated discs, spinal osteoarthritis, and other neck and back conditions caused by the natural aging process. Orthopedic doctors often recommend nonsurgical treatments, but surgical intervention may be necessary in some cases. 

Orthopedic Doctors Treating Patients in Durham, NC & Surrounding Areas

If you need an orthopedic doctor in Durham, North Carolina, or a nearby area, you can turn to the professionals at North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic. Since our founding in 2003, we’ve always placed the highest priority on providing our patients with specialized care and personalized service.

Contact North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic today to request a consultation with one of the experienced orthopedic doctors on our team.