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There are a lot of reasons why you might take yourself or a loved one to a doctor's office, and, to handle the variety of potential ailments, there are plenty of specialists. While keeping all of these doctors straight can be a challenge, knowing which one to see and when can make a major difference in your treatment.
A common type of doctor that you may need to see is an orthopedic specialist. But what exactly does an orthopedic specialist — also known as an orthopedist — do? When would you need to see one? How does that whole referral process work to get you in their office to begin with?
What Is an Orthopedic Specialist?
Orthopedic specialists are primarily concerned with disorders of the musculoskeletal system, including muscles, bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments. Occasionally, an orthopedist may also treat issues impacting the nervous system when they're directly related to the spine.
In addition to a 13-year standard medical education, orthopedists may also opt to undergo an extra year or two of fellowship in a specialized area. By taking this course, orthopedic specialists have the ability to focus their practice on one particular region of the muscoloskeletal system, such as hands, feet, knees, or shoulders.
Some orthopedic specialists also choose to deal exclusively with sports medicine, pediatrics, or some other field. Of course, many orthopedists are qualified to work in a variety of different areas of treatment.
When You Need to See an Orthopedist
The conditions that orthopedists are qualified to treat include birth defects, injuries, age-related concerns, and a wide variety of illnesses that could impact your musculoskeletal system. Even if you're free of any deformities and are in fairly good health, your primary care doctor may refer you to an orthopedist if you experience persistent pain in any of your joints, bones, or muscles as a result of exercise-related overuse injuries or accidents.
The exact process for referrals will depend entirely on your health insurance provider. In some cases, you may not even need to see your general practitioner and can simply take the initiative to see a specialist on your own. Most of the time, though, insurance companies do require that you speak with your primary care provider and receive a written referral before seeing an orthopedic specialist.
Even if your insurance company doesn't require it, it's wise to talk to your PCP first in order to see if a visit to a specialist is necessary.
What to Expect
In order to handle the host of musculoskeletal conditions that they encounter, orthopedic specialists may employ a number of different diagnostic and treatment tools. When you first visit an orthopedist, they generally begin by taking your medical history and asking questions about your illness or injury, and then they move on to a physical examination. Depending on the situation, your doctor may also want to perform X-rays or blood tests.
Once they successfully diagnose your condition, the specialist will decide which course of treatment would be best. While there are a number of different surgical techniques that could be used, orthopedists typically try to treat most concerns through the use of medications, exercise, and/or other nonsurgical rehabilitative treatments.
For any musculoskeletal pains you're experiencing, speak with your primary care provider. Once they have a good idea of the situation, they may choose to refer you to a highly trained and qualified orthopedic specialist so that you can get the best care possible.