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The Pediatrics Orthopedic Team

Who treats pediatric orthopedic conditions?

A physical therapist stretches the leg of a young patient

Orthopedic conditions may be treated by your child's healthcare provider or other medical specialists. Several healthcare providers from other specialties may be involved in the care of your child at the same time. This multidisciplinary team approach is very important in managing the symptoms of an orthopedic problem, especially as many symptoms are chronic and change in severity over time. Some of the more common healthcare providers involved in treatment may include:

Pediatrician or primary care doctor

Your child's pediatrician or primary care doctor may treat and diagnose your child's disease. Or he or she may send you to a specialist for more specialized treatment of certain aspects of the disease.

Orthopedic surgeon

The healthcare provider who specializes in orthopedic surgery is called an orthopedic surgeon. Or sometimes, they are called an orthopedist. Orthopedists are educated in the workings of the musculoskeletal system. They know how to diagnose a condition or disorder. They also know how to identify and treat an injury, provide rehabilitation, or help prevent more damage to the musculoskeletal system.

The orthopedist may have completed up to 14 years of formal education. After becoming licensed to practice medicine, the orthopedic surgeon may become board-certified by passing both oral and written exams given by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Many orthopedic surgeons choose to practice general orthopedics. Others specialize in certain areas of the body, such as the foot, hand, shoulder, spine, hip, or knee. Or they may specialize in a certain area of orthopedic care, such as sports medicine or trauma medicine. Some orthopedists may specialize in several areas and may work with other specialists, such as neurosurgeons or rheumatologists, in caring for patients.

Rheumatologist

A rheumatologist is a healthcare provider who specializes in the treatment of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. These diseases may affect joints, muscles, bones, skin, and other tissues. Most rheumatologists have a background in internal medicine or pediatrics and have more training in the field of rheumatology. Rheumatologists are specially trained to identify many types of rheumatic diseases in their earliest stages. These include arthritis, many types of autoimmune diseases, musculoskeletal pain, disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and osteoporosis. A rheumatologist has 4 years of medical school and 3 years of specialized training in internal medicine or pediatrics. They also have had 2 or 3 more years of training in the field of rheumatology. A rheumatologist may also be board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine or the American Board of Pediatrics.

Physical therapist

Physical therapy focuses on the neuromuscular, musculoskeletal, and cardiopulmonary systems of the human body as they relate to human motion and function. Physical therapists (PTs) are very important members of the healthcare team. They evaluate and provide treatment for children with health problems resulting from injury, disease, or overuse of muscles or tendons.

Physical therapists have an undergraduate degree in physical therapy. Many have a master's or doctorate degree. To practice, all graduates must be licensed by their state. They must pass a national certification exam.

Physical therapists may practice in many places, such as:

  • Hospitals

  • Rehabilitation centers

  • Home health agencies

  • Schools

  • Sports facilities

  • Community health centers

  • Private practices

For orthopedic conditions, PTs provide treatment that includes:

  • Improvements in a child's ability to move from one place to another

  • Balance and walking retraining

  • Manual therapy of soft tissue to loosen tightness, improve blood flow, and decrease swelling

  • Body mechanics education

  • Wheelchair safety and management

  • Exercises to re-develop normal, controlled movement patterns

  • Exercise programming

  • Family education and training

  • Assistance with pain relief and management

  • Instruction in safe walking

Occupational therapist

Occupational therapy uses "occupation," or purposeful activity, to help children with physical, developmental, or emotional problems lead independent, productive, and satisfying lives.

An occupational therapist often coordinates the following in the care for a child with a debilitating condition, such as an orthopedic condition:

  • Evaluating children with developmental, neuromuscular problems to plan treatment activities that will help them grow mentally, socially, and physically

  • Helping children learn how to carry out daily tasks

  • Helping children in a mental health center learn to cope with daily activities

  • Advising changes in layout and design of the home or school to give children with injuries or disabilities greater access and mobility

Occupational therapists work in many different places, such as:

  • Hospitals

  • Rehabilitation centers

  • Schools

  • Home care agencies

  • Private practices

  • Government agencies

Physiatrist

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) is also known as physiatry. It helps restore lost abilities in a person who has been disabled due to a disease, disorder, or injury. Physiatry provides care aimed at recovery for the whole person. It addresses the person's physical, psychological, medical, vocational, and social needs. The healthcare provider who specializes in PM&R is called a physiatrist. Physiatrists are board certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 

Podiatrist

A podiatrist specializes in foot care. This healthcare provider can prescribe medicine and do some surgery.

Nurses/nurse practitioners

Nurse practitioners who specialize in orthopedic problems may help your child's healthcare provider in giving care. These nurses can also help you to understand your child's treatment plan and answer many of your questions.

Depending on your child's condition, other healthcare providers may be involved in treatment, too. For example, a neurologist or neurosurgeon may help in treating problems affecting the spinal cord.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Thomas N Joseph MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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