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What Are the Physical Demands of Being an Orthopedic Surgeon?

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Orthopedic surgeons specialize in treating patients with problems in the musculoskeletal system. They typically work on the bones, joints, muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the average surgeon in this field will spend approximately 50 percent of his time in surgery. This type of surgery may come with more physical demands than other specialties.

Standing in Surgery

Like all surgeons, orthopedic surgeons stand during surgical procedures, sometimes for hours at a time. They may not always be able to stand comfortably in surgery, and this may cause physical stress, discomfort or, in extreme cases, injuries. Standing in the same positions may cause pain in the back, neck, shoulders, arms and hands. Orthopedic surgeons may suffer from herniated discs in the neck, damaged muscles in the shoulder, back pain, tennis elbow and even varicose veins.

Using Physical Strength

Some orthopedic procedures are physically demanding for surgeons, requiring them to move, manipulate and hold heavy parts of patients steadily. Although surgeons learn how to use their bodies so they don't have to rely on brute strength during these more taxing procedures, this may still cause some strain and physical stress. Some of the larger instruments orthopedic surgeons use, such as mallets, drills and saws, can also be heavy.

Manual Dexterity and Repetitive Tasks

Some orthopedic procedures are more delicate, and surgeons need to use fine motor skills during surgery. Continued use of smaller tools and instruments that require precision may cause stiffness and discomfort in the hands and arms. Surgeons may find themselves repeating the same tasks and movements, which could lead to repetitive stress problems. For example, some orthopedic surgeons develop carpal tunnel syndrome.

Long Working Hours

Orthopedic surgeons may work long and unpredictable hours, especially during residency training. Some go on to specialize in orthopedic procedures that allow them to work more regular hours. However, some surgeons, such as those who work in emergency rooms or trauma centers, may continue to work long hours in high-pressure situations and may spend some time on call. Surgeons may become sleep deprived and emotionally stressed, which may lead to physical problems, such as hypertension.


Carol Finch has been writing technology, careers, business and finance articles since 2000, tapping into her experience in sales, marketing and technology consulting. She has a bachelor's degree in Modern Languages, a Chartered Institute of Marketing.certificate and unofficial tech and gaming geek status with her long-suffering friends and family.

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