What is Orthopedic Surgery?
Before addressing this question, we need to advise readers that there is an alternative spelling: orthopaedic that remains in use in North America. Many U.S. colleges, universities, and residency programs use the digraph (two successive letters) of ae. One example is the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
The specialty initially referred to children who suffered from spinal and bone deformities that required correction. In 1741, a French physician Nicholas Andry coined the term by combining the Greek word “orthos” (meaning correct) and “paidon”, meaning a small or young child. About one hundred years after Dr. Andry, a Welsh surgeon by the name of Hugh Owen Thomas became known as the father of orthopedics. After receiving his medical diploma from University College in London, England, he opened a practice as a bone-setter. Dr. Thomas was a pioneer in several surgical procedures to correct deformities of the spine and hips, as well as using splints for fractures of the femur.
Types of Surgeries
The recovery time varies significantly depending on the complexity of the surgery and the severity of the condition. Sports injuries often require the expertise of an orthopedic surgeon. Weekend warriors and professional athletes can tear any of their four knee ligaments. These injuries are common in most sports that involve running, especially when there is a sudden change in direction.
One of the most common is tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – it attaches the femur or thigh bone to the shin bone. A partial or complete tear requires repair or, in the latter case, a reconstruction of the ligament with a graft. Recovery time from the reconstruction operation may take up to eight months. The process begins with biking within 3-6 weeks, followed by treadmill running at 10- 12 weeks post-surgery, outdoor jogging at 3 to 4 months. Finally, at 6 to 8 months, the individual may resume all athletic activities.
The recovery time will differ according to the severity and location of the bone fracture. A broken finger will take less time to recover entirely than a compound (punctures the skin) fracture of the femur, arm, shin bones, or ankle. The average time for bone healing is 6 to 8 weeks. Some broken bones may need only a cast or splint to immobilize the fracture. More severe injuries may require surgery to insert screws or metal plates. For upper limbs, the healing time is about six weeks; for lower limbs, it can take up to 12 weeks for the bone to mend. The recovery time could be several months before the resumption of sport’s activities.
Operations on the spine can involve a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon. Surgeries due to nerve pain, such as sciatica, caused by a pinched nerve might fall under the services of a neurosurgeon. An orthopedic specialist could perform operations requiring the correction or realignment of the spinal column. However, both specialists may have devoted their practice to procedures related to the cervical and lumbar spine.
One condition that may need surgery is scoliosis, which occurs when the spinal column becomes curved and rotated. Often, scoliosis is idiopathic, meaning no known cause. The deformity can be present at birth or develop during adolescence from 10 to 18 years old. Adults from the age of 45 are not immune from developing the condition, which is usually caused by a degeneration of the spine. Hence, the name – Degenerative De-Novo Scoliosis.
In adults with the above condition, rigid bracing and anti-inflammatory medication may not be sufficient to alleviate the pain. When surgery is the only remaining option, the orthopedic surgeon may attach rods to support the spinal column. Recovery from this lengthy surgical procedure may take months of physical therapy. A full recovery may not be possible due to the advanced age of the patient and his/her physical condition.
Two conditions that can have a protracted recovery time are spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis. The former involves degeneration of the spongy discs between the vertebrae in the spine; it may begin at the age of twenty. The latter refers to the displacement of one of the vertebrae. A traumatic event to the back or a degenerative process is one of the two possible causes of spondylolisthesis.
The two conditions mentioned above would likely have different recovery periods, according to the age of the individual and current physical shape. An adult in middle age or beyond with diminished musculature may never recover fully from the operation. This person may require a permanent brace and limited activity that does not require using the back muscles or twisting motion. Physical therapy, regardless of age, should accelerate one’s recovery from these two types of back surgery.
Another orthopedic surgery of the back is a spinal fusion, which involves the permanent connection of two vertebrae. The location stretches from your neck to lower back using rods, screws, or a bone graft to attach two vertebrae. After a two to three-day hospital stay (varies by complexity of the surgery), the patient returns home with the recommendation to wear a brace. It can take 12 to 18 months for the affected bones in the spine to solidify. In specific individuals, vigorous exercise and work, like weightlifting and construction, may resume in six months post-surgery.
Due to the myriad of orthopedic surgeries, it is not possible to list all of them and their recovery time. Common among today’s blossoming elderly population, a knee replacement takes about 6 to 12 months to resume most activities. The timeframe can be as few as three months for a hip replacement.
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