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Is There A Difference Between An Orthopedic Doctor and An Orthopedic Surgeon?

Jan 6, 2021

Is There A Difference Between An Orthopedic Doctor and An Orthopedic SurgeonDo you know that you can go to different specialists for your orthopedic problems? If you are referred to an orthopedic clinic, you may see either an orthopedic doctor or an orthopedic surgeon. To many people, this sounds like it’s the same thing. After all, can’t doctors perform surgery? However, there is a distinction between these two titles and it can be helpful to understand which one you need to see and why. To learn more about the differences between orthopedic doctors and orthopedic surgeons, keep reading.

What Is Orthopedic Medicine?

Before we talk about the individual roles, we should understand what orthopedics means in the first place. Orthopedics is a branch of medicine that is dedicated to the musculoskeletal system, which includes muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Because of these varying body parts and their importance, anyone working in orthopedics often works with other specialists like pain management experts and physical therapists to ensure the right treatment is being provided.

Orthopedics deals with conditions that are present from birth, that develop over time, or that appear as a result of trauma or injury.

Common conditions that fall under orthopedic care include:

What Does an Orthopedic Doctor Do?

The job of an orthopedic doctor is to meet with patients who have concerns surrounding their musculoskeletal system to discuss and diagnose these issues. In addition to identifying these conditions, orthopedic doctors will be able to provide helpful tools like braces, splints, and casts, or reset broken bones. These doctors may refer you for additional care based on their knowledge, including physical therapy. If they decide you are a candidate for surgery, your orthopedic doctor can provide counseling both before and after a procedure, assisting with follow-up and the recovery process. Importantly, orthopedic doctors do not perform any surgical procedures.

What Does an Orthopedic Surgeon Do?

An orthopedic surgeon can perform all of the same tasks that an orthopedic doctor can, as well as surgery. Some surgeons will perform all of the care, including diagnosis and follow up treatment, but many focus only on surgical procedures and are referred by orthopedic doctors. An orthopedic surgeon is generally able to perform surgery on the hips, knees, feet, ankles, shoulders, elbows, or spine, depending on the diagnosis and necessary treatment. Typically, a surgeon will be brought in for serious conditions, including ruptured discs, chronic back pain, spinal stenosis, bone tumors, carpal tunnel syndrome, or arthritis.

Some common surgeries performed by orthopedic surgeons include:

  • Soft tissue repair surgery- repairs tendons or ligaments with significant damage
  • Osteotomy- cutting or repositioning of bones to correct a deformity
  • Joint replacement- partial or total replacement of a damaged joint with an artificial one
  • Internal fixation- using plates, screws, or pins to hold broken pieces of bone together
  • Fusion- using rods or other internal devices to fuse bones together
  • Arthroscopy- tiny incisions that are made so that a camera can view the inside of a joint

Should I See an Orthopedic Doctor or Orthopedic Surgeon?

Many orthopedic clinics will include both, so this can depend on your original assessment and how your recovery plays out. However, in some cases, it may be clear that you need an orthopedic surgeon. Chronic pain that has not been helped can often lead you to an orthopedic surgeon. Some people prefer to go straight to a surgeon to relieve pain quickly.

However, most people will begin with an orthopedic doctor and try to evaluate non-invasive options first. Don’t forget to ask your doctor questions to find out what will work better for you. If you experience chronic pain caused by arthritis or other conditions, you may want to avoid surgery where possible. An orthopedic doctor will explore preventative measures that can reduce pain or prevent worsening, often working with pain management experts and physical therapists to achieve optimal results. If you do need surgery, they will be able to refer you to a surgeon and work closely with them to create a treatment plan.

The Right Orthopedic Care for You

At AICA Orthopedics, we offer a broad range of specialties, including a comprehensive orthopedic clinic. Our doctors and surgeons work together, along with other specialists, to determine the personalized treatment that best suits the needs of each patient we see. Our orthopedic clinics also benefit from on-site imaging centers and pain management experts, giving AICA Orthopedics the ability to take a holistic approach to your healing. Contact us today to schedule your first appointment and determine the care that is best for you!


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