Orthopedic surgeons diagnose and treat conditions of the musculoskeletal system, which includes the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves. Although they perform surgery, orthopedic surgeons also treat conditions using mechanical devices, physical therapy and medications. Some focus on a specific body part or field, with sports medicine drawing many new doctors to the orthopedic arena. Orthopedic surgeons who specialize in sports medicine appreciate how a human body's movements relates to sports.
Job Description Overview
The Association of American Medical Colleges notes that orthopedic surgeons trained in sports medicine treat all of the musculoskeletal structures that can be affected by sports activity, during a sporting event or training. They can understand an athlete's mindset and have expert knowledge on topics such as soft-tissue biomechanics, physical conditioning, the impact of drugs and nutrition on performance and health, field evaluation and working in a team setting. Along with their surgical skills, orthopedic surgeons use rehabilitation athletic equipment, and orthotic devices, which control or limit movement, to prevent and manage injuries. They treat conditions in children and adults, including student athletes at the college and professional levels, and non-athletes involved in recreational sports. Although not part of their salaried jobs, some orthopedic surgeons volunteer at local school games, taking care of student athletes.
The Nature of Treatment
Orthopedic surgeons frequently begin treating their patients by ordering X-rays, bone scans or MRIs to determine the nature of the injury. Orthopedic surgeons in sports medicine commonly provide medical and surgical treatment of sports-related injuries such as fractures, joint instabilities and dislocations, and sprains and ligament tears. Commonly performed procedures include joint injections, cartilage repair and shoulder, elbow, hip and knee arthroscopy, which is surgery performed to visually inspect a joint. They also provide knee, hip and shoulder replacement and rotator cuff repair. Patients do not need hospitalization as frequently as they did in the past thanks to advancements in treatments.
O*Net Online notes that doctors in sports medicine routinely advise injured athletes on whether they should or should not return to training or to competition to prevent further injury. They note athletes' treatments in medical records; coordinate medical and sports activity with other involved parties, such as athletic trainers and coaches; provide education and counseling on injury prevention; and advise athletes, trainers and coaches on stopping or altering potentially harmful sports practices.
Preparing for the Career
Orthopedics overall was the top-ranked medical specialty, with doctors in the field earning a mean annual income of $405,000, according to the 2013 Medscape Orthopedist Compensation Report. Orthopedic surgeons who specialize in sports medicine require at least 14 years of education. After receiving a bachelor's degree in a premedical field, future orthopedic surgeons complete four yeas of medical school, followed by five years of a hospital residency in orthopedics. They must complete a one-year fellowship following their residency to specialize in sports medicine. After becoming licensed in the state where they work and establishing a practice, orthopedic surgeons can become board certified, which is an indication they can provide top-quality care. Board certified orthopedic surgeons pass oral and written examinations given by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, and provide a history of their surgical experience and personal evaluations.