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from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy

Your Visit With an Orthopaedic Surgeon

You have scheduled an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon to address a musculoskeletal condition, injury, or disease. This article explains:

  • What to expect, generally speaking, during your initial visit, though each patient’s experience will be unique to their situation.
  • How to prepare for your visit, including what to bring with you.
  • The types of nonsurgical and surgical treatments your surgeon may recommend for you.

What to Expect During Your Appointment

During your initial appointment, your orthopaedic surgeon will conduct a thorough evaluation. This includes taking a history of your illness or injury and then doing a physical examination. This may be followed by blood tests and/or diagnostic studies, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans.

If you have already had testing done, and your surgeon has access to the results — either through your electronic medical record or because you have brought hard copies of the results with you to your appointment — they may not need to order new tests. This may depend on how much time has passed since the tests were performed and the complexity of your condition.

Your doctor will then discuss your diagnosis and either help you select the best treatment plan so you can live an active and functional life, or refer you to another specialist such as another orthopaedic specialist, a rheumatologist, or an oncologist if appropriate.

Preparing for Your Appointment

To prepare for your first appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon, start by doing the following:

  • Compile a list of all medications you take, including over-the-counter medications, herbal preparations, and vitamin supplements.
  • Gather any relevant medical records from other doctors, including copies of imaging studies, lab test results, and relevant medical records. Whenever possible, bring a disk with your imaging studies (X-rays, MRI, CT scan) with you to the appointment. Do not depend on the images or radiology report being sent. Your doctor’s office may not have electronic access to the images, which can delay your care if they are not able to review the studies.
  • Write a list of questions to ask the doctor about your diagnosis and/or treatment, so you won't forget during your appointment.

Learn more: Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor's Visit

Nonsurgical Treatment

Orthopaedic surgeons treat many musculoskeletal conditions without surgery, by using one or more of the following:

  • Oral medications – A variety of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
  • Injections – Injections of anti-inflammatory medications (e.g., corticosteroids), anesthetics, or biologics (e.g., platelet-rich plasma) into a joint, spinal disk, trigger point, or muscle may help provide relief when other conservative treatments aren’t effective.
  • Electrical nerve stimulation - Stimulator devices transmit low-level electrical charges into the area of the body that is in pain. This therapy may be helpful for treating pain related to injuries, like fractures and sprains, as well as certain chronic pain conditions like low back pain.
  • Exercise and physical therapy – Exercises can help relieve pain, restore mobility and range of motion, and improve strength. Virtually every nonsurgical treatment plan includes a tailored exercise program, either done on your own or with a therapist.
  • Other rehabilitative or alternative therapies

Often, nonsurgical treatments can either effectively address your condition or improve your symptoms enough to delay the need for surgery.

For most orthopaedic diseases and injuries, there is more than one form of treatment. If necessary, your orthopaedic surgeon may recommend surgery if you do not respond to nonsurgical treatments.

Surgical Treatment

Orthopaedic surgeons perform numerous types of surgeries. Common procedures include:

  • Arthroscopy — a procedure that uses special cameras and equipment inserted through small incisions to visualize, diagnose, and treat problems inside a joint. A wide range of conditions can be treated arthroscopically, including synovitis (inflammation), rotator cuff tears, meniscus tears, and tendon or ligament tears.
  • Carpal tunnel release — a procedure commonly used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome. The surgeon cuts the ligament that forms the roof of the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway in the wrist, which decreases pressure (compression) on the median nerve.
  • Cartilage restoration — procedures that either stimulate the growth of new cartilage or replace areas of damaged cartilage, restoring the joint’s natural anatomy, enabling normal function, relieving pain, and potentially slowing the progression of osteoarthritis.
  • Débridement — a procedure to remove damaged, infected, or dead tissue
  • Disk replacement — a procedure to remove damaged spinal disks and replace them with artificial disks.
  • Fusion — a welding process by which bones are fused together with bone grafts and internal devices (such as metal rods) to heal into a single solid bone. Fusion can be performed in the ankles, feet, fingers, spine, thumbs, and wrists.
  • Internal fixation — a method to hold the broken pieces of bone in proper position with metal plates, pins, or screws while the bone is healing.
  • Joint replacement (partial, total, and revision) — when an arthritic or damaged joint is removed and replaced with an artificial joint called a prosthesis. Originally performed on the hip and knee, joint replacement is now an option for the foot, ankle, fingers, wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Minimally invasive techniques and robotic-assisted technology may be used for some joint replacement procedures.
  • Osteotomy — the correction of bone deformity by cutting and repositioning the bone.
  • Soft tissue repair — the mending of soft tissue, such as torn tendons or ligaments. These procedures can often be performed arthroscopically.

Last Reviewed

March 2022

Contributed and/or Updated by

Thomas Ward Throckmorton, MD, FAAOS

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.