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At some point in their lives, many people require the care of an orthopedic surgeon: little children who fall down on elementary school playgrounds with broken wrists and elbows, high-school basketball players who twist and tear up their knees, and elderly men and women with chronic joint pain. Each of these patients will seek the expertise of a specialist in orthopedic surgery—highly trained physicians who treat the diseases and injuries of the entire musculoskeletal system, from the neck down to the toes. Although considered specialists, orthopedic surgeons actually have a rather broad knowledge base and take care of a wide spectrum of disease.

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Although orthopedic surgery implies that most problems seen within this specialty are treated surgically, this notion is far from the truth. In fact, despite the long years of surgical training, most patient care is nonoperative. Cutting and curing is indeed an important part of orthopedic surgery, but medical students should keep in mind that it is not the sole focus of this wonderful specialty.

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The specialty of orthopedics basically involves the care of the musculoskeletal system, which includes care of most disorders and injuries in the upper and lower extremities as well as the spine and pelvis. As such, future orthopedic surgeons need a thorough knowledge of the anatomy, mechanics, and physiology of this body system. You master everything there is to know about each muscle, nerve, and blood vessel within all parts of the musculoskeletal system. In addition, proper diagnosis and management of orthopedic injuries requires a solid grasp of forensics and physics to understand the mechanisms of injury. With an understanding of the underlying mechanisms, injury patterns can be predicted and will assist in appropriate diagnoses.

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Orthopedic surgery involves more than just broken bones, dislocations, and sprains. It covers a wide array of problems, including conditions that may be congenital, acquired, or simply idiopathic (meaning of unknown origin). The list of orthopedic pathology is quite long and diverse, but a sampling of the diagnoses includes musculoskeletal infections, bone dysplasias, arthritis, neuromuscular disorders, scoliosis, pediatric deformities, meniscus and tendon tears, ligament sprains, compartment syndrome, tendonitis, joint instability, osteonecrosis, bunions, hammertoes, gout, diabetic foot wounds, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger fingers, rheumatoid arthritis, Dupuytren disease, nerve injuries, musculoskeletal neoplasms, spinal stenosis, herniated disks, spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis, gait disturbance, and osteoporosis.

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Because orthopedics covers such a broad array of disorders and injuries, which requires an extensive knowledge base, it has been divided into many subspecialties. Many orthopedists practice general orthopedics and take care of a variety of common injuries and disorders. Other surgeons choose to subspecialize in areas such as sports medicine, back and neck, shoulder and elbow, foot and ankle, upper extremity, adult reconstruction, musculoskeletal oncology, and pediatric orthopedics.

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The real joy of orthopedics is the ability to help people with painful disorders and injuries, usually in a very short time period. Injuries cause mechanical problems in the body, and it ...

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