Orthopaedics is a medical specialty focused on the diagnosis and treatment of conditions, disorders, and injuries of the muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. A doctor who specializes in orthopaedics is called an orthopaedist.

An orthopaedic doctor– or orthopaedist– is a medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) who specializes in the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. Orthopaedic surgeons perform surgery on the musculoskeletal system.

Many orthopaedic doctors and surgeons specialize in certain areas of the body, such as hand and wrist, foot and ankle, back, neck, spine, and more. Additionally, they may focus on a specific field of orthopaedics, such as pediactrics, sports medicine, and trauma.

A Board-certified orthopaedic surgeon has successfully completed a minimum of 13 years of formal education: 4 years of university, 4 years of medical school, and 5 years of residency at a major medical institution. Once completed, he or she must pass a written test offered by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. After the written test is passed and two years of surgical practice is completed, he or she becomes “board-eligible” and must pass an oral exam. Once the doctor passes this exam, he or she becomes “board certified” and is considered a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.

A Board-certified fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon has completed all of the requirements to become board-certified in addition to an additional year of specialty training in a specific field of orthopaedic surgery in an accredited fellowship program.

All orthopaedic surgeons continue yearly medical education in order to stay current in orthopaedic knowledge and skills.

A primary care sports medicine doctor is a leader in the field of sports medicine. Through either advanced fellowship training or years of clinical experience, a primary care sports medicine doctor has learned the skills to take care of athletics of all ages, sports, and levels of competition. Primary care sports medicine doctors often serve as team doctors to professional sports teams or are personal doctors to elite level athletes.

A nurse practitioner–commonly referred to as an NP– is a healthcare professional licensed to practice medicine who can practice independently of a physician.

A physician assistant–also known as a PA– is a healthcare professional licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a doctor.

Both NPs and PAs can treat patients and write prescriptions. They are both trained to recognize when patients need the attention of a supervising doctor or specialist. NPs and PAs will see patients in the office and also assist doctors in surgery.

A physical therapist is licensed by the state, specializing in therapy programs for musculoskeletal injuries and disorders, sports injuries, post-operative rehabilitation, and massage therapy.

An occupational therapist is licensed by the state and specializes in the treatment of the upper extremity (hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder) and work injuries. The services provided by occupational therapists include patient education, joint range of motion, adaptive techniques, splinting, and workplace evaluations.


Cartilage is a soft, rubbery, gel-like coating on the ends of bones. They facilitate movement and protect the joints.

A ligament is an elastic band of tissue that connects bone to bone and provides stability to the joints.

A tendon is a band of tissue that connects muscle to bone.

Tendonitis, also spelled tendinitis, is an inflammation or irritation of a tendon. Chronic strain, overuse or misuse of a tendon leading to a repetitive stress injury, or a serious acute injury can lead to a weakness, tear, or swelling of the tendon tissue, resulting in pain and stiffness near the tendon. Tendonitis usually occurs in the elbow, hip, knee, shoulder, thumb, and wrist, but can occur anywhere there is a tendon.

The word arthritis literally means “joint inflammation.” Arthritis refers to a group of more than 100 rheumatic diseases and other conditions that cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that damages the lining surrounding our joins while also destroying our bones, tissue, and joints over time.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition that slowly damages the cartilage surrounding the ends of bones and is most common in the hip, knee, and spine.

Bursitis is an inflammation or irritation of a bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac located around joints. Bursitis typically occurs in the heel, hip, knee, shoulder, and thumb.

The general rule of thumb is to use ice within the first 24-48 hours of an injury, or whenever swelling is present. Ice helps to reduce inflammation and swelling by decreasing blood flow to the injured area. The general guideline is to apply ice indirectly to the skin for 20 minutes, remove the ice for 20 minutes, and repeat as necessary.

Heat is used to increase blood flow, which can help to promote pain relief after inflammation and swelling subside. Heat is also used to assist in warm muscles prior to exercise, physical activity, or physical therapy.