Orthopedic surgery or orthopedics (also spelled orthopaedics, see below) is the branch of surgery concerned with acute, chronic, traumatic, and overuse injuries and other disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic surgeons address most musculoskeletal ailments including arthritis, trauma and congenital deformities using both surgical and non-surgical means. They are often specialists in Sports Medicine (sportsmedicine) and are among the most common specialty that serve a team physician, even at the high school level where they are on standby at football games, for example, in case of serious injury. Orthopedic Surgeons are often the last surgeons to operate on a multiple trauma victim, because other organ system repair often takes priority over the musculoskeletal system.
Orthopedic Surgeons work closely with physical therapists, athletic trainers and personal trainers. While orthopedic surgeons are often considered the most “alpha”of physicians, they usually have excellent working relationships with coaches, athletics trainers, strength trainer, personal trainers and physical therapists. For example, they are usually open to recommendations from the playing field viewoint of an athletic trainer or a personal trainer.
Orthopedic surgeons (also known as orthopedists or orthopedic specialists) complete a minimum of 10 years of postsecondary education and clinical training. In the majority of cases this training includes obtaining an undergraduate degree (a few medical schools will admit students with as little as two years of undergraduate education), an allopathic degree or osteopathic degree (4 years), and then completing a five-year residency in orthopedic surgery. The five-year residency consists of one year of general surgery training followed by four years of training in orthopedic surgery.
Many orthopedic surgeons elect to do further subspecialty training in programs known as ‘fellowships’ after completing their residency training. Fellowship training in an orthopedic subspeciality is typically one year in duration (sometimes two) and usually has a research component involved with the clinical and operative training. Examples of orthopedic subspecialty training in the US are:
Shoulder and elbow surgery
Total joint reconstruction (arthroplasty)
Foot and ankle surgery (Also performed by podiatry)
Spine surgery (Also performed by neurosurgeons)
Surgical sports medicine
These are also the nine main sub-specialty areas of orthopedic surgery.
Hand surgery, and more recently Sports Medicine are the only truly recognized sub-specialties within orthopaedic surgery by the Accredited Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). The other sub-specialities are informal concentrations of practice. To be recognized as a hand surgeon or sports surgeon, a practitioner must have completed an ACGME-accredited fellowship and obtained a Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) which requires an additional standardized examination. Some orthopedist often work treating two musculoskeletal regions, such as knees and shoulders. Large orthopedic practices often have physicians with different sub-specialties to help round out the complete practice.