Do I Need to See an Orthopedic and How Can They Help?

May 1st, 2017 Becki Andrus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, musculoskeletal problems consistently rank among the top three reasons for seeing a doctor. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recently revealed that 1 in 4 Americans has some sort of musculoskeletal impairment. Injuries and ongoing problems cost the U.S. around $850 billion each year.

Deciding when to see an Ankle Doctor, better known as an orthopedic specialist, can be very tricky. Many common injuries, such as sprained ankles, heal in a few days on their own with rest and basic first aid. On the other hand, waiting too long to see a specialist when you need one can exacerbate an injury and lead to more complex problems.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about orthopedics, symptoms that call for immediate medical attention and what to expect at an appointment.

What Is Orthopedics?

Orthopedics is the branch of medicine concerned with the musculoskeletal system. This vital system comprises the spine, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, joints and nerves throughout the body. Without it, you would not be able to carry a bag of groceries, play a game of tennis, walk or even stand.

OrthopedicsGiven the numerous body parts in this system, a lot can go wrong. Specialists in this field treat sprains, broken bones and chronic back pain. They see patients with deformities, congenital problems, infections and bone tumors. Arthritis and osteoporosis are common ailments. Experts in sports medicine deal with shin splints, bone dislocations and tears in the Achilles tendon. Surgeons perform knee, hip and shoulder replacements.

Doctors who go into this branch of medicine can expect to stay very busy.

When Should an Orthopedic Specialist Be Consulted?

You can almost always count on your own body to tell you that you need to see a doctor, so pay close attention. If swelling, inflammation or pain in an injured area gradually subsides and function is fully restored, there is probably no need to see a specialist.

If, however, you experience any of the symptoms listed below, do not ignore them:

  • Intense, persistent pain that lasts for more than a few days
  • Limited range of motion
  • Instability when you stand, walk or attempt to change positions
  • Persistent redness, heat, tenderness, swelling or stiffness in the injured area
  • Sustained or dangerously elevated fever
  • Pain, difficulty or lack of stamina in ordinary activities like climbing stairs or getting out of a car
  • Joint pain that intensifies while you are resting
  • Lack of improvement after physical therapy

You should most definitely see a specialist if your regular doctor recommends a joint replacement.

What You Can Expect During Your Visit

Doctors are responsible for diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and prevention of further injuries. In order to do a good job, they have to have a lot of information about your injury, your lifestyle and your general health.

When you go to your first appointment, wear clothing that allows them full access to the area of the injury. If your knee is bothering you, wear shorts.

Allow time for paperwork. Pay special attention to the health history questionnaire. Medical conditions that seem unrelated to your injury could have great bearing on your treatment plan. Be sure to list any medications, nutritional supplements or herbal remedies that you take. If you need pain management, the doctor will have to make sure that nothing you take interacts with it.

You might be baffled by the many questions put to you at the initial consultation, but answer them honestly and thoroughly. The specialist is trying to get a comprehensive understanding of exactly what the problem is and how to approach it.

If you are seeing a doctor because of an injury, one of the first things they will ask is how it happened. Maybe you slipped on a bar of soap in the shower and are embarrassed to say so. You may be tempted to say that you were crossing the finish line in a grueling marathon. Don’t. Knowing how an injury occurred is vital to helping it heal and preventing it from happening again.

If you schedule with an expert in sports medicine, be sure to inform them of all the sports, training programs and workouts that you participate in.

Before they address the injury, the doctor will give you a thorough physical examination. In addition to checking your heart rate and blood pressure, they will most likely test your reflexes, muscle strength and range of motion.

They might schedule an MRI, X-rays or a stress test. Arthroscopy is another useful tool for getting a good look inside. In that procedure, the surgeon makes a tiny incision in the skin. Fiber optics makes it possible for them to study the joint structure on a monitor. If they see a fairly simple problem, they may decide to repair it at that time. Arthroscopy is not nearly as complicated as conventional surgery, and there is minimal recovery time.

Unless the diagnosis is completely dependent on test results, the specialist will recommend a treatment regimen. It could be as simple as doing certain exercises at home, or it may involve several weeks of physical therapy.

Usually, surgery or joint replacement is suggested only after noninvasive methods have failed. According to Orthopedics Today magazine, around 80 percent of all treatments take place on an out-patient basis.

Benefits of Specialized Treatment

Chronic pain has an immeasurable impact on quality of life. The inability to exercise as you like or play your favorite sports can lead to isolation and depression. When doing a load of laundry, getting dry-cleaned items to the car or simply writing a letter prove challenging, it may be time to explore the benefits of professional treatment:

  • Relief from pain
  • Improved joint function, a range of motion and flexibility
  • Increased strength
  • Close monitoring of the healing process
  • Injury prevention

Have you had enough of pain, stiffness and limited mobility? A higher standard of living might be just one phone call away.


  1. According to the article, seeing an orthopedic doctor is important if you have chronic back pain. My back has been hurting me for quite some time making it hard for me to do routine tasks. I wasn’t sure if I should see a massage therapist or a specialist, so I’ll take your suggestion to see an orthopedic doctor into consideration.

  2. That’s cool that orthopedic doctors will ask you some questions that might sound weird but are there to see exactly what is happening. It’s good that they want to get to the source of the problem and fix it for you. My daughter has at least a little bit of scoliosis, and I want to get a brace for her or something that will help correct the problem. We’ll have to find an orthopedic doctor to take her to who’ll be sure to ask all of the necessary questions.

  3. I never realized that you should talk to an orthopedic expert if your joint pain intensifies when you are resting. My back and shoulders ache whenever I lie down to rest. I’ll definitely go into the doctor. Do you have any tips for choosing an orthopedic doctor?

  4. After receiving a running injury several weeks ago, I have been worried that I won’t be feeling better in time for an upcoming race. I appreciate that you mentioned that symptoms like intense, persistent pain that lasts more than a few days or joint pain that intensifies while you are resting can be signs that an orthopedic doctor should be consulted. Thank you for your tips regarding orthopedic services!

  5. I had no idea that orthopedic specialists could help with so many things. I love the fact that they can help when you have a limited range of motion. My shoulders can’t rotate all the way up, so I should see someone for that.

  6. Thanks for explaining when it could be good to see an orthopedic. It’s good to know that they can help if you have a limited range of motion. I’m interested to know if the limits need to be severe or minor in order to get help.

  7. I’d like to thank you for your explanation as to when I could visit an orthopedic specialist or an ankle doctor. This gave me an idea of a name that sounds like the ankle doctor, and it “Uncle Doctor”, isn’t it cute and easy to remember? Anyway, I just got sprained, and yes, my left ankle is a bit painful and swelling. I think I need to see one now.

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