Orthopedic Conditions

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What are orthopedic conditions?

Orthopedic conditions are injuries and diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system. This body system includes the muscles, bones, nerves, joints, ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissues. Damage to any of these tissues or structures can come from chronic orthopedic diseases or from an injury.

General orthopedic problems include:

  • Acute injuries, such as traumatic bone fractures and dislocated joints

  • Arthritis, which is joint inflammation causing pain, joint damage, and loss of joint function. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout.

  • Bursitis, which is inflammation and irritation of a bursa. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs inside joints that cushion ligaments, tendons and muscles as they move over bones.

  • Muscle atrophy, which is loss of muscle tissue causing weakness and difficulty moving. It can occur with lack of use, such as being bedridden, or from damage to the nerves controlling the muscle movement.

  • Musculoskeletal cancer, which is malignancy of any of the tissues or structures of the musculoskeletal system. Examples include osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and chondrosarcoma (cartilage cancer).

  • Orthopedic autoimmune diseases, which occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly starts attacking its own healthy cells and tissues. Autoimmune diseases that can affect the musculoskeletal system include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma.

  • Osteomalacia, which causes an adult’s bones to soften. It results in muscle weakness, bowed legs, bone pain, and fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is the most common cause of this condition.

  • Osteomyelitis, which is an infection in the bone

  • Osteoporosis, which is loss of bone density making the bones weak and brittle. This increases the risk of fractures.

  • Pinched nerve, which is when a spinal nerve root becomes compressed or irritated. A nerve root is where a spinal nerve branches off the spinal cord and exits the spine between two vertebrae. Spinal disc problems are the main cause of a pinched nerve.

  • Tendinitis, which is inflammation and irritation of a tendon. It is a form of overuse injury from repetitive motions or forces.

  • Tenosynovitis, which is inflammation of a tendon sheath. Tendons are strong cords of connective tissue that attach muscles to bones. Tendons that pass through bony tunnels, such as the wrist, have a sheath surrounding them. These sheaths allow the tendon to move through the tunnel smoothly.

It’s best to see a doctor at the first sign of trouble with your bones, joints or muscles. In many cases, the problem is due to overuse or strain, but it’s better to rule out more serious injury as soon as possible than to wait and risk the chance of the problem getting worse. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for a severe injury involving any part of the musculoskeletal system, such as bone fractures and joint dislocations.

What are the symptoms of orthopedic conditions?

The symptoms of orthopedic issues will vary depending on the specific condition and body part.

Symptoms include:

  • Deformities or unusual appearance of a joint

  • Fatigue combined with joint pain or swelling

  • Joint stiffness and limited range of motion

  • Muscle spasms

  • Numbness, tingling or weakness

  • Pain, which may be mild, moderate or severe and sharp, dull, achy, crampy, stabbing, or burning

  • Swelling of the injured or diseased area

  • Warmth and redness in case of infection or inflammation

Such symptoms as pain, muscle spasms, numbness, swelling and stiffness may come and go depending on the specific condition and your activity level. Pain and other symptoms from orthopedic conditions can limit activity if it worsens with movement.

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

Orthopedic injuries, such as bone fractures and joint dislocations can lead to complications and require immediate medical attention. Seek immediate medical care (call 911 for help) if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms:

  • Deformity of a joint or bone

  • Difficulty moving a joint or extremity

  • Hearing a snapping, grinding or popping sound during the injury

  • Open wound or bone sticking through the skin

  • Severe pain or swelling

What causes orthopedic conditions?

Acute or chronic trauma is a common cause for many of them. Acute trauma is a sudden injury. Chronic trauma is the result of repetitive motions or forces on a joint or joint structure, such as a tendon. These injuries happen gradually over time, such as weeks, months or years even.

Degenerative changes are another common cause of orthopedic conditions. Joints and joint structures can sustain wear and tear over time. This causes changes that can result in such conditions as osteoarthritis and spine problems.

What are the risk factors for orthopedic conditions?

Each specific orthopedic issue has its own set of risk factors. In general, risk factors may include:

  • Aging

  • Being overweight or obese, which puts extra pressure on bones, joints, and joint structures

  • Having a chronic disease, such as diabetes

  • Playing sports or participating in recreational activities

  • Smoking

  • Using improper lifting techniques and body mechanics

  • Working in a profession involving the same tasks every day, which increases strain on your body

Reducing your risk of orthopedic conditions

You may be able to lower your risk of orthopedic conditions by changing risk factors you can control, such as:

  • Balancing strength training with stretching exercises

  • Closely following your treatment plan for medical conditions

  • Cross-training with a variety of activities

  • Learning correct posture, body mechanics, and ways to lift heavy objects

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Quitting smoking

  • Strengthening your bones with weight-bearing activities and plenty of calcium and vitamin D

  • Wearing protective equipment during sports and recreational activities

It’s important to see your doctor on a regular basis if you develop an orthopedic condition. Early treatment can often result in a better outcome and can help you avoid future problems.

How are orthopedic conditions treated?

Treatments for orthopedic conditions will differ depending on the problem. However, orthopedic treatments have some common goals and approaches. In general, this includes correcting physical problems, relieving symptoms, improving quality of life, and preventing future problems. There are various ways to accomplish these goals including RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), over-the-counter and prescription medicines, joint injections, and physical therapy. In some cases, orthopedic surgery may be necessary to resolve the problem.

What are the potential complications of orthopedic conditions?

Without proper treatment and adequate recovery, many orthopedic conditions can lead to disability and chronic problems. Talk with your doctor about your specific problem. Ask about the potential complications and how you can work with your doctor to prevent or treat them.

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  11. Tendinitis. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tendinitis/basics/definition/con-20020309
  12. Tenosynovitis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001242.htm
  13. What Is Arthritis? Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/what-is-arthritis.php
  14. What Is Bone Cancer? American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/bone-cancer/about/what-is-bone-cancer.html
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 25
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