When one refers to a healthcare professional as a bone specialist, it is worth noting that this is a title that can not only be used to describe an orthopaedic surgeon, but could also be applied to a rheumatologist, an osteopath, a chiropractor, or even a physiotherapist. While the responsibilities of each include applying his or her particular knowledge and skills to the treatment of various conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, both the nature of those conditions and the manner in which they are approached will vary quite widely between these various specialisms.
Surgical procedures, for example, are generally only undertaken by those doctors who have chosen to specialise in the field of orthopaedics. Quite often, the focus of these bone specialists will be on treating trauma patients who have experienced fractures as the result of an injury. Typically, a general orthopaedic surgeon will carry out complex procedures to reduce and repair bone damage, often employing screws, nails, plates, and other such devices in order to complete their repairs.
Within this same field, other surgeons may apply their skills to treating disorders of the joints – most notably those in the knee and hip. After performing an initial arthroscopic examination of the joint to assess the damage, they may then find it necessary to replace one or more parts of the diseased or injured joint with specially designed prosthetics.
Not all orthopaedic patients will necessarily require surgery, however. Dislocations are common, especially among those who play contact sports, and these can be dealt with by physical reduction procedures. Likewise, deformities of the spine can often be corrected with the use of special braces designed to control posture, while simple fractures will generally require no more than initial reduction followed by traction, and will have no need for any form of surgical intervention. In practice, most orthopaedic wards tend to be manned by bone specialists who, effectively, are required to combine the skills of a surgeon with those of a physician, while possessing the experience to know which of these may be most appropriate in a given situation.
So, what of these other healthcare professionals whose speciality is also the musculoskeletal system? The osteopath, for example, does not actually hold a general medical degree, but will have qualified as a doctor of osteopathy (DO). Nevertheless, their studies and their methods closely parallel those of an MD. Rather than resorting to surgery, they tend to employ the manipulation of joints and muscles to treat pain and, where indicated, will order blood work and X-rays to assist with their diagnosis, as well as prescribing any appropriate medication.
Like the osteopath, a chiropractor also does not hold a medical degree. These bone specialists are required to have earned a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from an accredited college. During their studies, they become familiar with more than a hundred different types of chiropractic treatments, as well as when and how to apply them. Their focus is on the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and general health. Often, they will employ methods similar to those used by physiotherapists, such as heat treatments to relieve pain and to relax muscles. These bone specialists regularly perform manipulative treatments, particularly of the spine and neck, much like an osteopath.
Finally, like the orthopaedic surgeon, the rheumatologist holds a general medical degree and will have chosen different routes for their post-graduate training. While both treat patients who present with bone or joint pain, the focus of the rheumatologist is one treating the underlying systemic causes of these conditions applying medical, rather than surgical interventions. Generalised joint pain is frequently associated with autoimmune conditions, an area in which these bone specialists choose to excel.