Common Orthopedic Conditions

"I've got back pain." "My arthritis is acting up." “It’s my sciatica.” These are common laments. However chronic these conditions have become, today's society seemingly has minimal understanding of the complex nature of the spine and associated processes. Orthopedic medicine incorporates all of those body systems related to individual movement, including bones, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Leg pain may be just a pulled muscle or it could be related to nerve root compression or ligamentous strain. Proper diagnosis by a qualified professional is essential in generating more appropriate therapies with successful outcomes. A discussion of orthopedic conditions from head to toe is discussed below with accompanying links for further information and treatment options.


The spine, also known as the backbone, is the structure which allows humans to walk upright. It consists of the cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, sacrum, and coccyx. Every body part is attached to it, the extremities, head, neck, and chest. It also houses the spinal cord, the vertebrae, discs and nerves. Therefore, when anything goes wrong with the spine, it can directly and indirectly lead to any number of conditions. Back pain tends to be muscular in nature, but as stated, can be anything from a herniated disc that causes compression of the nerves and eventually cauda equina leading to pain, weakness and numbness in the legs to scoliosis, abnormal curvature of the spine. Injury to the spine can be catastrophic, quadriplegia being the most severe lifelong condition in which the spine essentially no longer controls any part of the body below the neck.


The neck consists of the first seven vertebrae of the spine known as the cervical region. Injury to this region can be critical, as noted above. Even injuries considered minor, like whiplash which is a soft tissue injury can lead to lifelong problems with pain. There are degenerative disorders as well, such as cervical spondylosis which affects a large portion of the population over the age of 50. Cervical radiculopathy is a disorder characterized by numbness and tingling of the arms and legs due to nerve compression, either by bone spurs or herniated discs. 


The shoulders are comprised of the scapulae, the humerus and the clavicle. It allows full range of movement of the arms. The ball and socket joints allow this movement. Bursitis, tendinitis, rotator cuff tears, dislocations, and arthritis have several symptoms in common, restriction of upper body movement and pain being among the most troublesome issues. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of treatments available as long as treatment is sought soon after the injury.


The arm consists of the humerus, ulna and radius bones. It is attached at the top with a ball and socket joint to the shoulder. The elbow is a hinge joint surrounded by ligaments that allow the arm to bend and rotate. The main musculature of the arms is the biceps, triceps, and brachialis muscles. Damage to ligaments or muscles can mean a slow rehabilitation period. For example, tennis elbow occurs when the forearm muscles attach to the bony part of the elbow, causing inflammation to the area and restricting movement. Treatment involves resting the joint and then slowly increasing range of motion as prescribed by a physician or physical therapist. Fractures require a relatively long period of time, usually 6-8 weeks to heal and must be immobilized for proper healing.


The hands and wrist contain the most delicate bones and joints in the human body. The carpal bones are found in the wrist. Metacarpal bones are in the palm. The phalanges make up the fingers. Arthritis is most often noticed here initially. The pain and inflammation of arthritis make it difficult to move the fingers and wrist. It can be caused from repetitive movement, age, or autoimmune disorders. Compression of the nerves leading into the hand also causes disability. Carpal tunnel syndrome is an example of this.


The hip is comprised of the femur and the pelvis. The femur, or the thighbone is attached to the pelvis via the ball and socket joint. Dislocation here makes walking or any weight bearing activity impossible. Hip replacement surgery is fast becoming the treatment of choice. Bursitis in this area is becoming more and more common. Risk factors for bursitis include bone spurs, repetitive movement, fracture, scoiosis or leg-length inequality. Treatment options include anti-inflammatory medications and slow return to activity. A hip fracture, on the other hand, can be extremely painful requiring surgery and a long-term commitment to rehabilitation. 


The knee is also a hinge joint that carries the weight of the body for any weight bearing activity. Movement is severely restricted when this area has any type of damage. Severe arthritis in the knees may require knee replacement surgery, whereby a prosthesis replaces the damaged knee. The ligaments of the knee are just as crucial to proper function. Athletes in particular are susceptible to ligamentous injury, often necessitating surgery to repair.

Legs and Feet   

The femur connects at the hip and meets the tibia, also known as the shin at the knee. The tibia and fibula forms the ankle joint. Ligaments and tendons keep movement fluid instead of jerky and unstable. And the foot bones are delicate but tough, like the bones of the hand. Since these areas are further away from the heart, circulation issues can arise. Most at risk for circulatory problems with the feet are people with diabetes. Over time, they can develop what is known as diabetic foot, losing feeling in the foot, making ambulation difficult and also rendering them more susceptible to infection of the feet. Particular attention should be paid to the feet to ensure there are no circulatory issues.

As previously stated, these orthopedic conditions generally affect more than one area of the body. It is crucial to have professional testing, diagnosis, and treatment plans. Further complications may occur from self-diagnosis or misdiagnosis, possibly necessitating surgical intervention or constriction of movement to an even greater degree.