An Orthopedist Explains What They Do And When You Should See One

Athletes and fitness buffs know them well. An orthopedist, also known as an orthopedic surgeon, takes care of our muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and bones when we put too much strain on them, says Joshua Carothers, MD, chief medical officer at VIP StarNetwork, which is a leading provider of mobile and onsite health services. Carothers is a key opinion leader and board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedics, a fellow for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and a fellow for the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons.

Although some orthopedists treat a wide variety of conditions, others specialize in specific areas, like the spine, or specific age groups such as children. Carothers, for example, focuses on knee and hip degenerative disorders in adults, such as arthritis. "I counsel patients about non-operative treatments and perform surgery when necessary," Carothers said. "My surgical focus is knee and hip replacement, which are the methods by which we can cure a joint of severe arthritis." Unlike rheumatologists, orthopedists can perform surgery.

Why you might see an orthopedist

If your knee starts hurting during spin class or you feel a popping in your shoulder while you're working out, that might be a good reason to see an orthopedist. "We are all used to occasional aches and pains that come and go, but pain that doesn't resolve with the usual remedies or that is associated with other symptoms like joint instability or locking, numbness, or tingling may be signs that an orthopedist should be consulted," Carothers said. Orthopedists also handle fractures of the extremities, spine, and pelvis, which sometimes involve surgery.

If you've never seen an orthopedist for a musculoskeletal problem, you'll probably get an x-ray to start and get an overall evaluation of the afflicted bone or joint. Then the orthopedist will ask you questions, like when the pain or condition started and what might aggravate or alleviate it. You'll also be asked about any previous treatments, your medical history, and what your daily activity looks like. "Many conditions have various ways of being treated, including non-surgical and surgical strategies, and your physician will likely go over the options with you," Carothers said.