What to Expect During Your First Orthopedic Services Visit

Learn more about what orthopedic doctors do, and the treatments they implement.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates that musculoskeletal disease impacts 126.6 million U.S. adults ages 18 years or older every year. AAOS researchers found these illnesses are comparable to the total percentage of Americans living with chronic heart and lung conditions.

If you suffer from an aching back, sore muscles, or painful joints, you should visit an orthopedic physician. These doctors can diagnose underlying health conditions causing your pain, and develop a comprehensive treatment plan to alleviate it. Here is what you can expect when during your first visit with an orthopedic specialist.

Orthopedic Medicine Explained

Orthopedic specialties treat musculoskeletal diseases, and orthopedists are physicians who diagnose these issues.

Musculoskeletal disorders are diseases that affect the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Falls, accidents, blows, and diseases can cause these injuries. Repetitive movements can also trigger musculoskeletal pain.

Nicholas Andre, a University of Paris professor, first coined the term “orthopedic” in 1741. He developed the term using two Greek root words: “orthos” (straight) and “paedia” (children). In previous centuries, orthopedists only worked with children who had spinal deformities. The profession expanded, and soon orthopedists began treating a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Today, orthopedic surgeons see patients of all ages.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, orthopedic surgeons receive five more years of training to master this field. They learn operative and non-operative techniques to manage musculoskeletal disorders. These physicians may receive another two years of training if they want to enter sports medicine.

Areas Orthopedic Surgeons Treat

Orthopedists treat a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders. Many of these physicians practice general orthopedics however, some specialize in a specific medical area. These include the following specialties.

  • Arthritis and osteoarthritis
  • Ankle, Achilles tendon, bunions, and foot surgery
  • Back and spine surgery
  • Hand and wrist surgery
  • Hip injuries and replacement
  • Injury and fracture care
  • Joint replacement
  • Osteoporosis
  • Pain management
  • Physical and Occupational Therapy
  • Rheumatology
  • Shoulder injuries and replacement
  • Sports medicine

Most specialists will take a team approach to develop a treatment plan for your orthopedic condition. They may consult with other professionals including neurologists, pain specialists, psychiatrists, chiropractors, and your primary care doctor. Other health professionals can include athletic trainers, counselors, nurse practitioners, and physical therapists.

Contacting an Orthopedic Specialist

People ask if they should visit their primary doctor first before consulting with an orthopedic surgeon. Many insurance companies require patients to see their primary care physician before seeing a specialist. A family doctor can treat injuries that require shorter recovery times (12 weeks or less). They will refer patients who don’t recover within three months to an orthopedic specialist for treatment.

People don’t always need a doctor’s referral to see an orthopedic doctor. Patients can schedule an appointment directly with a specialist if they suspect they have serious or ongoing orthopedic issues. These conditions may include:

  • Arthritis
  • Chronic back pain (longer than 12 weeks)
  • Joint or bone pain
  • Repetitive motion injuries (tendinitis, bursitis)

What to Expect During an Appointment

During your first orthopedic appointment, your physician gathers your medical history. They speak to you about any symptoms you’re experiencing. Next, the orthopedist will take a series of X-rays, blood tests, and other examinations. These medical tests help the physician assess the current state of your physical health.

The specialist will conduct a lifestyle assessment. He or she will ask questions about your current activities, diet, and occupational duties. If necessary, the will doctor advise you to adjust activities that may aggravate your health condition. Your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan after assessing your injury.

General Treatments Used by Orthopedic Doctors

Orthopedic physicians develop treatment plans based on a patient’s medical issues. They can prescribe the following regimens to improve recovery.

  • Surgery: Some patients require surgical intervention to correct an orthopedic issue and repair damaged areas.
  • Medication: Doctors may prescribe pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and other medications to reduce pain and speed your recovery.
  • Physical Therapy: These manual treatments can reduce tenderness, stiffness, and pain. The exercises help patients heal and recover the use of injured areas.
  • Exercise: This physical regimen strengthens muscles and prevent patients from re-injuring themselves.
  • Massage/Acupuncture: Physicians may recommend these treatments to reduce pain and facilitate healing.
Reviewing X-Rays

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