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The Orthopedic Treatment Team

What is orthopedics?

Orthopedics is a medical specialty that deals with treating bones and muscles. Orthopedic surgery is the branch of medicine focused on concerned with diseases, injuries, and conditions of the musculoskeletal system relating to the body's muscles and skeleton. This includes the joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves.

Who treats orthopedic conditions?

Orthopedic conditions may be treated by your healthcare provider or other medical specialists. Several healthcare providers from different medical specialties may take part in the treatment at the same time. This approach is important to manage the symptoms of an orthopedic condition, as many symptoms are long-term (chronic) and change over time. Some of the more common providers who treat orthopedic conditions may include:

Primary care provider

A primary care provider has specialized education and training in general internal medicine, family practice, or another first-level-of-care area. These providers offer:

  • Routine healthcare (including yearly physical exams and immunizations)

  • Treatment for sudden (acute) medical conditions

  • Initial care for conditions that may become more serious or long-term (chronic)

Your primary care provider may treat and diagnose your disease. They may also refer you to a specialist if needed.

Orthopedic surgeon

This doctor specializes in orthopedic surgery. Orthopedic surgeons are educated in the workings of the musculoskeletal system. They can diagnose conditions of and specialize in surgery of:

  • Bones

  • Joints

  • Ligaments

  • Tendons

  • Muscles

They can also treat an injury, provide rehab (rehabilitation), and advise on how to prevent further damage to a diseased area. .

An orthopedic surgeon may have completed up to 14 years of formal education. After being licensed to practice medicine, they may become board-certified by passing both oral and written exams given by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. Many orthopedic surgeons choose to practice general orthopedics. Others specialize in certain areas of the body such as the:

  • Foot

  • Hand

  • Shoulder

  • Spine

  • Hip

  • Knee

Others specialize in an area of orthopedic care, such as sports medicine or trauma medicine. Some orthopedists may specialize in a few areas. They may work together with other specialists, such as neurosurgeons or rheumatologists.

Primary care sports medicine healthcare provider

This is a primary care provider who has extra fellowship training in musculoskeletal injuries and other problems that affect athletes. This provider can manage many orthopedic problems. And they recognize which cases need surgery.


Rheumatologists are doctors who specialize in treating arthritis and other rheumatic diseases that may affect joints, muscles, bones, skin, and other tissues. They are specially trained to find many types of rheumatic diseases in their earliest stages. This includes:

  • Arthritis

  • Many types of autoimmune diseases

  • Musculoskeletal pain

  • Musculoskeletal system disorders

Rheumatologists complete 4 years of medical school and 3 years of specialized training in internal medicine or pediatrics. They then have an additional 2 or 3 years of specialized training in the field of rheumatology. They may also be board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Physical therapist

Physical therapy is the health profession that focuses on the neuromuscular, musculoskeletal, and cardiopulmonary systems of the human body, as these systems relate to human motion, health, and function.

Physical therapists (PTs) are very important members of the healthcare team. They evaluate and treat health problems resulting from injury, disease, or overuse of muscles, ligaments, or tendons. PTs have an undergraduate degree in physical therapy. Many have a master's degree or doctorate. All graduates must be licensed by their state by passing a national certification exam before they can practice. PTs work in many settings, including:

  • Hospitals

  • Rehab centers

  • Home health agencies

  • Schools

  • Sports facilities

  • Community health centers

  • Private practice

For orthopedic conditions, PTs provide comprehensive training, such as:

  • Functional mobility

  • Balance and gait retraining

  • Soft-tissue mobilization

  • Body mechanics education

  • Wheelchair safety and management

  • Neuromuscular re-education

  • Exercise programming

  • Family education and training

  • Help with pain relief and management

  • Instruction in walking safely

  • Pre- and post-surgical rehab

Occupational therapist

Occupational therapists (OTs) use occupation, or purposeful activity, to help people with physical, developmental, or emotional disabilities lead independent, productive, and satisfying lives. An OT often coordinates these areas of care for a person with a debilitating condition, such as an orthopedic condition:

  • Evaluating children and adults with developmental or neuromuscular problems to plan treatment activities that will help them grow mentally, socially, and physically

  • Helping children and adults learn how to do daily tasks

  • Conducting group or individual treatment to help children and adults in a mental health center learn to cope with daily activities

  • Advising changes in layout and design of homes or schools so that children and adults with injuries or disabilities have greater access and mobility

OTs work in many different settings, including:

  • Hospitals

  • Rehab centers

  • Schools

  • Home care agencies

  • Private practice

  • Government agencies


Physical medicine and rehabilitation is also called physiatry. This medical specialty helps to restore lost abilities for a person who has been disabled due to disease, disorder, or injury. Physiatry provides integrated, multidisciplinary care aimed at recovery of the whole person. It does this by addressing the person's physical, psychological, medical, vocational, and social needs. The provider who specializes in physical medicine and rehab is called a physiatrist.


This provider specializes in foot care. They are licensed to prescribe medicine and do surgery on the foot.

Nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants

Other providers who specialize in the care of orthopedic conditions may help your healthcare provider to give care.

Other providers

Depending on the condition, other healthcare providers, such as pain specialists, may also provide orthopedic treatment. For instance, a neurologist or neurosurgeon may help treat problems affecting the spine. This is because the spinal cord is involved. OTs may help treat conditions that need rehab. They often work with PTs.

Online Medical Reviewer: Rahul Banerjee MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2023
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