Questions about basic orthopedic issues.

What is the difference between x-rays, MRI, and CT scan?
Should I apply ice or heat to an injury?
What is physical therapy?
What is a tendon? ligament? cartilage?
What is a cortisone/corticosteroid injection?
What are NSAIDs and how do they work?

What is the difference between x-rays, MRI, and CT scan?

X-rays are a type of radiation, and when they pass through the body, dense objects such as bone block the radiation and appear white on the x-ray film, while less dense tissues appear gray and are difficult to see. X-rays are typically used to diagnose and assess bone degeneration or disease, fractures and dislocations, infections, or tumors.

Organs and tissues within the body contain magnetic properties. MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, combines a powerful magnet with radio waves (instead of x-rays) and a computer to manipulate these magnetic elements and create highly detailed images of structures in the body. Images are viewed as cross sections or “slices” of the body part being scanned. There is no radiation involved as with x-rays. MRI scans are frequently used to diagnose bone and joint problems.

A computed tomography (CT) scan (also known as CAT scan) is similar to an MRI in the detail and quality of image it produces, yet the CT scan is actually a sophisticated, powerful x-ray that takes 360-degree pictures of internal organs, the spine, and vertebrae. By combining x-rays and a computer, a CT scan, like an MRI, produces cross-sectional views of the body part being scanned. In many cases, a contrast dye is injected into the blood to make the structures more visible. CT scans show the bones of the spine much better than MRI, so they are more useful in diagnosing conditions affecting the vertebrae and other bones of the spine.

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Should I apply ice or heat to an injury?

Ice should be used in the acute stage of an injury (within the first 24-48 hours), or whenever there is swelling. Ice helps to reduce inflammation by decreasing blood flow to the area in which cold is applied. Heat increases blood flow and may promote pain relief after swelling subsides. Heat may also be used to warm up muscles prior to exercise or physical therapy.

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What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is the treatment of musculoskeletal and neurological injuries to promote a return to function and independent living. Physical therapy incorporates both exercise and functional training. Exercise restores motion and strength while functional training facilitates a return to daily activities, work, or sport.

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What is a tendon? ligament? cartilage?

A tendon is a band of tissue that connects muscle to bone. A ligament is an elastic band of tissue that connects bone to bone and provides stability to the joint. Cartilage is a soft, gel-like padding between bones that protects joints and facilitates movement.

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What is a cortisone/corticosteroid injection?

Cortisone is a steroid that is produced naturally in the body. Synthetically-produced cortisone can also be injected into soft tissues and joints to help decrease inflammation. While cortisone is not a pain reliever, pain may diminish as a result of reduced inflammation. In orthopedics, cortisone injections are commonly used as a treatment for chronic conditions such as bursitis, tendinitis, and arthritis.

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What are NSAIDs and how do they work?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are non-prescription, over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. They are popular treatments for muscular aches and pains, as well as arthritis.

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Orthopedic Surgery FAQ

What is an orthopedic surgeon?
What is arthroscopic surgery?
What is joint replacement surgery?
How long do artificial joints last?
What happens during rotator cuff surgery?
What is an ACL reconstruction?

What is an orthopedic surgeon?

An orthopedic surgeon is a medical doctor who has received up to 14 years of education in the diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention of injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system (bones and joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage).

Some orthopaedic surgeons practice general orthopedics, while others specialize in treating certain body parts such as the foot and ankle, hand and wrist, spine, knee, shoulder, or hip. Some orthopaedists may also focus on a specific population such as pediatrics, trauma, or sports medicine.

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What is arthroscopic surgery?

Arthroscopic surgery is one of the most common orthopedic procedures performed today. Through the use of small instruments and cameras, an orthoapedic surgeon can visualize, diagnose, and treat problems within the joints.

One or more small incisions are made around the joint to be viewed. The surgeon inserts an instrument called an arthoscope into the joint. The arthoscope contains a fiber optic light source and small television camera that allows the surgeon to view the joint on a television monitor and diagnose the problem, determine the extent of injury, and make any necessary repairs. Other instruments may be inserted to help view or repair the tissues inside the joint.

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What is joint replacement surgery?

Joint replacement surgery is performed to replace an arthritic or damaged joint with a new, artificial joint called a prosthesis. The knee and hip are the most commonly replaced joints, although shoulders, elbows and ankles can also be replaced.

Joints contain cartilage, a rubbery material that cushions the ends of bones and facilitates movement. Over time, or if the joint has been injured, the cartilage wears away and the bones of the joint start rubbing together. As bones rub together, bone spurs may form and the joint becomes stiff and painful. Most people have joint replacement surgery when they can no longer control the pain in their hip or knee with medication and other treatments, and the pain is significantly interfering with their lives.

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How long do artificial joints last?

On average, artificial joints have a lifespan of 10 to 20 years. If you are in your 40s or 50s when you have joint replacement surgery, especially if you are very active, you are likely to need another joint replacement surgery later in life.

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What happens during rotator cuff surgery?

Shoulder surgery for rotator cuff problems usually involves one or more of the following procedures: debridement, subacromial decompression, rotator cuff repair.

Debridement clears damaged tissue out of the shoulder joint.

Subacromial decompression involves shaving bone or removing spurs underneath the tip of the shoulder blade (acromion). This creates more room in the space between the end of the shoulder blade and the upper arm bone so that the rotator cuff tendon is not pinched and can glide smoothly.

If the rotator cuff tendon is torn, it is sewn together and reattached to the top of the upper arm bone.

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What is an ACL reconstruction?

ACL reconstruction is a surgical procedure that repairs a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), one of the four ligaments that help stabilize the knee. The ligament is reconstructed using a tendon that is passed through the inside of the knee joint and secured to the upper leg bone (femur) and one of the two lower leg bones (tibia).

The tendon used for reconstruction is called a graft and can come from different sources. It is usually taken from the patient’s own patella, hamstring, or quadriceps, or it can come from a cadaver. ACL reconstruction is most often performed through arthroscopic surgery.

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