Orthopedic Problems

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Orthopedics is the branch of medicine that involves the treatment of the musculoskeletal system, which is made up of your body’s bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and related connective tissue. 

While it is not always possible to prevent an orthopedic problem, there are certain measures you can take to fight against musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. Healthy lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking can help. Preventing injuries by lifting objects properly and wearing protective gear during high-impact sports is another important element in avoiding orthopedic problems.

Because the area of orthopedics covers so many bones and joints, there are many different types of orthopedic problems. Some conditions and disorders, however, are more common than others. To find out about them, see the section Types of Orthopedic Problems.

Treatment of orthopedic conditions depends on the severity of your problem. Occasional or mild pain may be addressed with over-the-counter medications, while advanced disorders may require different treatment approaches, such as physical therapy or surgery. Learn more about some of the most common treatment approaches.

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Orthopedics is the branch of medicine that involves the treatment of the musculoskeletal system, which is made up of your body’s bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and related connective tissue. 

The human body has more than 200 bones and more than 200 joints that connect the bones, according to the National Institutes of Health . As a result, there are countless different types of orthopedic problems, making it very likely that you will experience one of more of them at some point in your life. Arthritis, back problems and injuries are the most common causes of orthopedic problems.

Orthopedic problems can range from discomfort, minor aches and pains, to more serious medical conditions requiring immediate treatment. Typically, they affect the back, neck, shoulders and joints. Both children and adults can suffer from orthopedic conditions.

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There are so many different types of orthopedic problems, it would be almost impossible to list them all. However, some conditions and disorders are more common. These include:

  • Arthritis: Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. In osteoarthritis, the surface layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away, causing pain, swelling, and loss of joint motion. Rheumatoid arthritis is another form of arthritis caused by an autoimmune disease, resulting in joint stiffness and swelling. For more information, see Arthritis.
  • Bursitis: This is the swelling and irritation of a bursa, a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between muscles, tendons, and joints. Bursitis is often a result of overuse, but can also be caused by trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or infection. Bursitis commonly occurs in the shoulder, knee, elbow, and hip.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: This is a condition in which there is pressure on the median nerve. It can lead to numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle damage in the hand and fingers.
  • Dislocation: A dislocation is the displacement of bones at a joint so that parts that are supposed to make contact no longer come together. This injury temporarily deforms and immobilises your joint and may result in sudden and severe pain.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones. It occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly that the body can replace them. As a result, bones become weak and may fracture extremely easily. For more information, see Osteoporosis.
  • Paget's disease: This is a chronic condition that disrupts your body's normal bone recycling process, in which old bone tissue is gradually replaced with new bone tissue. Over time, the affected bones may become fragile and misshapen. Paget's disease most commonly occurs in the pelvis, skull, spine and legs.
  • Scoliosis: Scoliosis is a condition that causes abnormal curving of the spine. These curves are often S- or C-shaped. Symptoms generally include having uneven shoulders and hips.
  • Sprain: A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments caused by joint overextension. Symptoms include pain, swelling and discolouration. The most common location for a sprain is in your ankle.
  • Tendinitis: Tendinitis is inflammation or irritation of a tendon. This causes pain and tenderness just outside the joint. Tendinitis most commonly occurs around your shoulders, elbows, wrists and heels.
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Treatment of orthopedic conditions depends on the severity of your condition. Occasional or mild pain may be addressed with over-the-counter medications, while advanced disorders may require different treatment approaches, such as physical therapy or surgery. Some of the different treatments commonly used to treat orthopedic problems include:

  • Braces and supports: Braces and supports can help compensate for an injured joint, as well as support weak muscles. These can include knee braces, ice and heat wraps and shoe inserts.  Severe muscle strain also may require crutches or a brace until the injury has healed.
  • Casts: Casts are used for treatment of many types of fractures as well as for moving around after surgery. 
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist is a specialist trained to work with you to restore your activity, strength and motion following an injury or surgery. Physical therapists can teach specific exercises, stretches and techniques to rehabilitate your body. Physical therapy is used in some situations as the primary treatment, and in others as an adjunct to another treatment such as surgery.
  • Medications: Common medications used to treat orthopedic conditions include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, for example, Motrin, Aleve, Naprosyn and Celebrex. 
  • Injections: Injections are sometimes used to administer medications for orthopedic problems. Corticosteroid injections into joints, tendons and ligaments, and around the spine may be given to help ease pain.
  • Surgery: Surgery is used for treatment of many orthopedic problems. In some cases, surgery is recommended as an initial treatment, but most often surgery is used when other treatments fail to relieve symptoms. Surgical procedures used in the treatment of orthopedics may include cartilage repair, disc replacement, hip replacement, knee surgery, spinal fusion surgery and repair of torn ligaments and tendons.
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While it is not always possible to prevent an orthopedic problem, there are certain measures you can take to fight against musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. These include:

  • Be physically active: Regular and moderate, low-impact exercises are helpful in maintaining bone and muscle health, and in reducing your risk of developing arthritis. Experts especially recommend strength training, stretching and water workouts.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on your weight-bearing joints, as well as the added pressure on your spine and lower back.
  • Wear protective gear during sport: Protecting your joints, especially during sports or high-impact activities, is an important way to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Don’t smoke: Tobacco use contributes to weak bones, increasing the risk of orthopedic problems.
  • Keep proper posture: Good posture is important to avoid lower back problems. How you stand, sit, and lift things has an increasing effect on your spine health.
  • Pay attention to workplace safety: Repetitive strain injuries are an orthopedic risk for those who work in office situations. If you work in an office, have the proper ergonomic setup at your workstation. In addition, when sitting, keep your back in a normal, slightly arched position. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that once an hour, if possible, you should stand and stretch. Place your hands on your lower back and gently arch backward.
  • Lift objects properly: Always bend at the knees, tighten your stomach muscles and keep your back straight. Lift with your leg muscles as you stand up. If an object is too heavy or is an awkward shape, do not try to lift it by yourself. Get help.
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