The Evolving Role of General Orthopaedics Explained

Feb 22, 2024 | Articles, Blog

Orthopaedics is an umbrella term that combines several medical and surgical specialities. General orthopaedics focuses mainly on treating skeletal deformities. The name of this discipline is derived from the Greek words for “child” and “straight”, and historically, the role of these practitioners was confined to treating or, more specifically, straightening spinal deformities like scoliosis, lordosis and kyphosis in children.

Because they lacked the necessary surgical skills, their efforts were limited to using bandages and spinal manipulation until Hippocrates developed a series of innovative devices for this purpose.


General Orthopaedics Today

There have been vast advances in orthopaedic surgery over the intervening centuries. The invention of X-rays and strong plastic polymers made possible the pioneering work of specialists like Professor Sir John Charnley in the ‘50s. Thanks to his efforts, thousands of total and partial hip and knee joint replacements are now performed daily. However, the demand for this more generalised branch of orthopaedics remains as strong as ever. However, treating children’s spinal deformities is only one task among many for those who choose this somewhat broad discipline.

A more comprehensive summary of their role would include the evaluation, diagnosis, non-surgical treatment, and management of patients with skeletal deformities, degenerative diseases, or injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system. The latter term refers to bone, cartilage and the associated soft tissues: muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons. From an anatomical viewpoint, the primary focus of general orthopaedics is on the investigation and treatment of conditions that commonly affect the following body parts:

  • Feet and ankles
  • Spine
  • Shoulders
  • Hands and wrists
  • Elbows
  • Hips
  • Knees


Some Common Reasons You Might Need General Orthopaedics

While some conditions can only be treated surgically, many respond well to a non-invasive approach. For example, sportspeople frequently suffer sprains, strains or dislocations, which can also result from accidents in the home. Where these are too severe to be treated at home, the services of an orthopaedic physician are often necessary. Typical options include manipulation, massage, therapeutic exercises and painkillers.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is one of the newer options for treating injuries to deep and soft tissues, arthritic conditions and neck and back pain. The electrical impulses reduce pain signals to the brain and may also increase the production of the body’s natural analgesics – endorphins.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is another common problem. It can be caused by repetitive hand movements or excess pressure on the median nerve, often associated with poor ergonomic practices. Patients who experience tingling, numbness or pain in their hands should seek medical attention. Fortunately, it does not always require surgery. Instead, a general orthopaedist can often achieve favourable results with wrist braces, anti-inflammatory medication, rest and a prescribed exercise programme.


Do You Need General Orthopaedics or More Specialised Attention?

If you are experiencing persistent pain and swelling in a joint or your lower back or neck, you should consult your GP, who will decide the best way forward after listening to your symptoms and examining you. This next step could be a referral to an orthopaedic unit. In such cases, many South African and overseas patients choose Dr Jan de Vos for general and specialised orthopaedic treatments. You can click here to learn more about his services at the Wilgers Life Hospital in Pretoria.