9 Reasons to See an Orthopedic Specialist

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Man with sore shoulder

Orthopedic specialists have special training in the care of bones, joints and muscles. While a primary care physician may be able to treat general aches and pains, certain symptoms and conditions require the expertise of an orthopedic doctor. These specialists also perform orthopedic surgery, such as joint replacements. Here are just a few of the reasons you may need to see an orthopedic specialist.


Sciatica is low back pain that extends through the leg and even into the foot. The cause is often a slipped disc, when one of the rubbery discs between two bony vertebrae in the spine is bulging past where it should extend. This can aggravate the sciatic nerve and cause serious pain. In 90% of cases, the pain goes away with time. However, if sciatica pain lasts more than six weeks, see an orthopedic doctor to discuss treatment options.

Lower Back Pain

About 80% of adults suffer low back pain at some point. It can be a dull ache or a sharp pain. Many causes can trigger low back pain, such as lifting a heavy object, age-related spinal changes, and a sedentary lifestyle. Most low back pain lasts a few days to a few weeks, and then goes away. If yours lasts more than a few weeks, it’s time to see an orthopedic specialist. Also see a doctor if low back pain is accompanied by sudden weight loss, fever or chills, which may indicate a more serious condition. 

Repetitive Strain Injury

Repetitive strain injuries result from repetitive and forceful motions, poor posture, and other hazards that overuse certain muscles. These injuries usually affect the back, neck, arms and hands. A common repetitive strain disorder is carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the muscles and nerves of the hand. Common symptoms of repetitive strain injuries include tenderness, stiffness, or tingling in the affected area. You don’t need to live with this pain. A correct early diagnosis from an orthopedic doctor can get you effective treatment and help prevent further injury.

Hip Pain  

You may feel hip pain within your hip joint itself, on the outside of your hip, in your thigh, or in your buttock. If hip pain is minor, then rest, pain relievers, and ice or heat may help. However, see an orthopedic doctor if the pain continues or gets worse. You may have damage due to arthritis or injury that requires professional treatment. With sudden, intense hip pain or if you suddenly can’t stand on your leg or move it, go to an emergency department right away.

Hip Replacement

If your hip causes you pain during your daily activities, and other treatments haven’t worked well, then you may need hip replacement surgery. Orthopedic surgeons perform hip replacement surgery to replace a damaged or diseased hip with an artificial joint. The healthier and more active you are before the operation, the better your results with the surgery are likely to be. Most people who have this operation find it reduces their pain and increases their ease of movement, allowing them to enjoy an improved quality of life.

Knee Pain

Knees are complex joints, and knee pain can have a variety of causes. Knee pain can result from diseases, such as arthritis, as well as injuries during sports or other physical activities. You may injure your knee as the result of a blow or a movement that strains the joint beyond its usual range of motion. Over time, knees also develop damage gradually, due to normal wear and tear. Problems with your feet or hips can also injure your knees. For chronic or severe knee pain, an orthopedic specialist can diagnose the cause and suggest a treatment plan. Treatments may include physical therapy to strengthen the knee and medications to relieve pain. If these become ineffective, your orthopedic doctor may suggest knee replacement.

Knee Replacement

If your knee is badly damaged or previous treatments are no longer effective, an orthopedic surgeon may perform knee replacement surgery. This procedure replaces the damaged knee with an artificial joint. Total knee replacement is a complete resurfacing of the damaged knee. The surgeon removes damaged cartilage and bone and replaces them with man-made materials. In a partial knee replacement, the surgeon replaces part of the joint. Recovery from knee replacement surgery can take from three months up to a year, depending on your procedure.

Shoulder Pain

Pain in or around the shoulder can be caused by disease or injury to muscles, tendons, or the rotator cuff joint. Arthritis, dislocations, and overuse injuries can cause pain, swelling, and limited range of motion. See an orthopedic doctor for shoulder pain lasting more than 2 to 4 weeks, or pain that involves swelling or discoloration. Sudden crushing shoulder pain can signal a heart attack. Call 911 right away if you experience this type of pain.

Frozen Shoulder

With frozen shoulder, the shoulder stiffens, making movement painful. The problem has no clear cause. Usually, the pain is mild to start but grows worse as months pass. A frozen shoulder can make it hard for you to raise your arm or move it behind you. In time, your shoulder may grow so stiff it will barely move. An orthopedic specialist can diagnose frozen shoulder and offer treatments, including gentle exercises, heat, and medication. If these don’t provide relief, shoulder surgery may be an option.

For any pain or symptom that’s affecting your bones, joints or muscles, an orthopedic specialist has the training, experience and knowledge to make an accurate diagnosis and find the treatment that’s right for you.

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  1. Bone Health Basics. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://www.orthoinfo.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00578
  2. Glossary. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://www.orthoinfo.org/glossary.cfm
  3. One in two Americans have a musculoskeletal condition costing an estimated $213 billion each year in treatment and lost wages. The US Bone and Joint Initiative.  https://www.usbji.org/news/releases/one-two-americans-have-musculoskeletal-condition-costing-estimated-213-billion-each
  4. Sciatica. PubMed Health, National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024494/
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  6. Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet
  7. Repetitive strain injuries. PubMed.gov, National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9093264
  8. Hip Pain. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/hip-pain/basics/definition/SYM-20050684?p=1
  9. Questions and Answers about Hip Replacement. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Hip_Replacement/
  10. Knee Pain. PubMed Health, National Library of Medicine . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024549/
  11. Partial Knee Replacement. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/partial-knee-replacement
  12. Shoulder pain. Home Health Encyclopedia. MedLine Plus, National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003171.htm
  13. Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder). PubMed Health, National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0025851/
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 9
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