Orthopedic trauma is a branch of orthopedic surgery that focuses on the care of seriously broken bones, especially following accidents. Although all orthopedic surgeons treat common fractures, some breaks are difficult to treat and require specialized care in order to heal properly. Some examples of the kinds of injuries that an orthopedic trauma specialist might handle include:
Multiple fractures or crushing injuries
Compound fractures, where a broken bone pierces the skin
Breaks in a joint, which can lead to arthritis
Hip and pelvic fractures
Infections in a broken bone
Nonunions, or breaks that won’t heal
Malunions, or breaks that are misaligned
Treatment provided by an orthopedic trauma specialist depends on the type and extent of the injury. In some cases it is sufficient to have a cast, brace, or other external way of supporting the broken bone while it heals. More significant injuries may require surgery to place structures such as pins, screws, and plates to stabilize the healing bone. In the most complex injuries, bone grafting or limb lengthening procedures may be used.
Orthopedic trauma specialists often work in hospitals, and they work closely with emergency professionals as well as reconstructive surgeons. In the case of a severe fracture or complications from a broken bone, orthopedic trauma specialists are the doctors that can get you moving again.
Orthopedic surgeons, sometimes just called orthopedists, are surgical doctors of the musculoskeletal system. They work to keep your body active and in motion by treating problems with your bones, joints, tendons and muscles. The most frequently treated disorder seen by orthopedic surgeons is osteoarthritis, a common “wear-and-tear” problem where the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down, causing friction and pain. Orthopedic surgeons might also see patients for bone and joint deformities, amputation, infections of the bone and joint, overuse injuries, or nerve compression.
Orthopedic surgeons can order tests such as blood work and x-rays to get a clearer picture of the issue. Depending on the illness or injury, more than one different form of treatment may be used. Treatment may include:
Surgery, such as fusing bones together to increase stability, or replacing a joint
Medication, such as pain medication or steroids to promote healing
Casts, splints, or orthotics (devices such as braces or shoe inserts to support the body)
Physical therapy, a kind of treatment using exercise, stretching, heat, and massage to heal the body
Exercise, stretching, movement, and use of the affected part
Orthopedic surgeons also work to prevent injuries and slow the progression of disease in their patients. They educate patients on ways to prevent future injuries, and they treat illness in order to prevent further damage to bones or joints that may be affected by disease. The goal of an orthopedic surgeon is to help their patients restore movement and regain an active life.
What is Sports Medicine?
Sports medicine is the specialty that promotes physical fitness and activity while managing, treating, and preventing injuries that happen during exercise or participation in sports. Sports medicine fosters wellness and fitness and works to inhibit injury. A sports medicine specialist may work with professional athletes, school sports teams, individuals who participate in sports on the weekend for fun, or someone who is just beginning to exercise for the first time. Although their main focus is on musculoskeletal function, sports medicine specialists also care for patients’ full medical and nutritional needs as they relate to their active lifestyle.
Some examples of the kinds of injuries and issues that a sports medicine specialist might see in their work include:
Acute sports injuries (sprains, fractures)
Overuse injuries (tendonitis, bursitis)
Head injuries (concussion)
Heat injuries (heat stroke)
Athletes with chronic illness (asthma, diabetes, heart disease) and how their illness is affected by exercise
Nutrition and the use of supplements
Developing a safe exercise plan for obese or sedentary patients
Substance abuse of performance-enhancing drugs
Teaching proper form and technique to reduce the chance of injury
Sports medicine specialists often work closely with orthopedic specialists, and the scope of their work can have some overlap. The main distinction is that orthopedic specialists can perform surgery when it is needed, while sports medicine specialists focus on non-surgical solutions for injuries.
Whether they are the team physicians making sure every professional player is performing safely and at their best, or community specialists getting you back in the game after a sprained ankle, sports medicine doctors are there to make sure you’re in good condition to lead an active life.
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