How an orthopedic specialist can help with osteoarthritis

An orthopedic specialist is a doctor who specializes in diseases of body parts concerned with movement. This includes bones, muscles and joints. Since osteoarthritis affects the joints, osteoarthritis patients may, in some cases, have contact with this type of doctor. However, not everyone will need to. In many cases, getting a diagnosis and treatment from a physiotherapist or general medical practitioner will be sufficient. Regardless of the care you need, it is good to know the differences between the various health experts.

What does an orthopedic surgeon do?

Orthopedics is a surgical specialty and this is the type of doctor who will perform any operation to insert a joint prosthetic if it is necessary. However, not all orthopedic specialists work just with osteoarthritis, there are several sub-specializations. A few examples include sports injuries, child orthopedics, back orthopedics, rheumasurgery and tumor surgery. Among these difference areas of specialization, there are also different tasks. This is why it is not quite so simple to answer the question of what an orthopedic surgeon does. In general terms, we can say that they can diagnose and treat everything from acute injuries, such as bone fractures, to overload injuries and congenital changes.

For osteoarthritis more specifically, a general doctor or a physiotherapist will often meet the patient at an early stage and make a diagnosis. It is only necessary to have contact with an orthopedic surgeon if the patient does not see any results from the basic treatment, which should always be instructor-led, long-term training. If the osteoarthritis is far advanced and the patient’s symptoms are pronounced, it may be necessary to have an operation. All decisions on the treatment are made in agreement with the patient, including the operation.

Referral to an orthopedic surgeon – how does it work?

Anyone who thinks they might have osteoarthritis usually first comes into contact with their local health center. Here, a general medical practitioner will make an initial assessment. Often, the local health center can also offer some form of treatment, for example in the form of osteoarthritis classes or the Joint Academy app. It is also possible to obtain both the diagnosis and treatment from a physiotherapist

It may be necessary for those patients who have tried the basic treatment for a long period and have still not improved to be referred to an orthopedic specialist. This doctor will then assess the need for a prosthesis operation. But this is only suitable for 10-15% of people diagnosed with osteoarthritis. At this stage, the patient should have a standard x-ray of the affected joint in order to measure the degree of osteoarthritis and to plan for a prosthesis operation.

Is it possible to talk to a orthopedic surgeon without a referral?

It is not usually possible to speak directly to an orthopedic specialist doctor without a referral from the public health system in Sweden. However, the osteoarthritis treatment from Joint Academy offers a diagnosis by an orthopedic specialist without a referral. Every participant also has a personal physiotherapist who will lead you through the treatment. However, this is only the case for people who have pain in their hip or knee. There is more information about how Joint Academy works on their website.

Alternatively, read more about operations for osteoarthritis.