The Growing Need for Joint Surgeons and Other Orthopaedic Specialists
Though it may not be what we wish to believe, the reality is that the average person in the 21st century appears to be less robust than those of previous generations. There have been a number of explanations for this apparent regression. These range from a diet consisting mainly of processed, convenience foods and lacking in fresh produce, to the more sedentary lifestyle that has resulted from widespread reliance on cars, computers, and other labour-saving devices.
Whatever the true explanation may be, obesity and its consequences, which include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke, are at an all-time high. There is also a big need for joint surgeons and orthopaedic specialists to address some of the less serious, but potentially debilitating, consequences of our modern lifestyles.
Accidental injuries, of course, account for some of the more obvious orthopaedic emergencies, such as broken legs or arms and dislocated shoulders. These are particularly common among those who enjoy sports as their more extreme exertions, which often gives rise to excess strain on the tendons, ligaments, and muscles that provide support for the ankles, knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders. Where such strain results in over-exertion of these structures, damage to the articulating surfaces of a joint may occur. It then becomes the task of specialist surgeons to conduct an appropriate repair procedure.
Those who sustain this type of injury will most often need to be dealt with as trauma patients and operated on with the minimum delay. Cases such as these, however, are only a part of the workload for the staff of a typical orthopaedic unit. In addition to the trauma cases, most units also undertake a variety of elective procedures. These are not the acute cases resulting from a sports injury, a fall, or a road traffic accident.
Most often due to the condition known as osteoarthritis, these patients experience a progressive deterioration leading to pain, swelling, and stiffness in a particular joint. Orthopaedic surgeons and specialists in arthroplasty will need to replace all or part of the damaged hip, knee, or shoulder, but will do so by arrangement, and following a period of evaluation. Interestingly, osteoarthritis is now developing earlier in life, and this has been attributed to increased pressure on joints due to obesity
In practice, about half of the treatments undertaken by the orthopaedic team do not involve surgery. Given that the name of this discipline derives from the Greek words “orthos” and “paideia”, which translates literally as “rearing a straight child”, correcting distortion of the musculoskeletal system remains one of the responsibilities of these healthcare professionals.
In such cases, joint surgeons and specialists in physiotherapy will often join forces to formulate a combined treatment for those affected by some form of skeletal irregularity, such as scoliosis, lordosis, and kyphosis.
Orthopaedics is a discipline that has seen some remarkable advances. In particular, the development of the arthroscope has served to improve diagnostic capabilities, as well as offering a less-invasive alternative to certain, previously radical surgical procedures. With a reputation that extends, not only throughout South Africa, but also to many overseas countries, the team of joint surgeons and orthopaedic specialists based at the Wilgers Life Hospital in Pretoria offers a full range of trauma-related and elective procedures.