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What is Pediatric Orthopedics?

Pediatric orthopedics is a medical specialty that focuses on problems with children’s bones, muscles, and joints. The bones, muscles and joints make up the body’s musculoskeletal (mus-kyuh-loh-skel-i-tl) system.

Pediatric orthopedists are doctors that have special training to treat children’s bone and muscle problems. Some bone and muscle problems will go away without treatment as children grow, but others need to be treated early. Orthopedists can help parents understand when treatment is necessary and what kind of treatments are possible or necessary.

Things You Need to Know

What Problems are treated by a Pediatric Orthopedist?

Your child’s pediatrician may recommend that you see a pediatric orthopedist for any problem related to your child’s bones, muscles, and joints. These include:

  • Bone fractures and sports injuries, including concussions
  • Spondylolysis [spon-dee-loh-leh-sis]. This is a fracture, break, or defect in one of the bones in the spine (vertebra).
  • Cerebral palsy. This is damage to the parts of the brain that control muscles. People with cerebral palsy might have mild problems or severe problems with movement, depending on how much damage there is to the brain and where the damage is located.
  • Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome may have loose ligaments and low muscle tone (not enough tension in the muscle so it feels floppy or weak).
  • Muscular dystrophy. This is a genetic condition that causes the muscles to become gradually weaker over time.
  • Scoliosis. Scoliosis causes the spine to curve to the side. It can be mild or severe.
  • Clubfoot. This is a birth defect in which one or both feet are turned in at the ankle.
  • Problems with the legs, feet, and hips that make it difficult to walk. This may include having legs of different lengths, leg bones that are rotated (turned), or problems with the hip joint (hip dysplasia [dis-play-zhuh]).
  • Bone cysts and tumors. Tumors may be caused by cancer or they may be benign [bih-NINE] (non-cancerous).

What Treatments and Procedures Does a Pediatric Orthopedist Do?

  • Casts, splints, and braces. Orthopedic doctors use casts to protect a bone while it heals or change the way the bone is growing. A cast can be made of plaster or fiberglass, and it keeps a bone from moving. A splint is like a partial cast that doesn’t cover the arm, leg, or other body part completely. A brace is used to restrict movement in a joint. Casts, splints, and braces are used for conditions such as broken bones, sprains, clubfoot, and scoliosis.
  • Assistive devices. Orthopedic doctors help children use walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, or special shoes when they need help with moving because of a problem with their bones, muscles, or joints.
  • Surgery. Orthopedic surgeons may use surgery to remove tumors orcysts, set broken bones, or correct bone deformities.

Pediatric orthopedists often work with other doctors and therapists, including physical therapists. Physical therapy is often an important part of recovery from any injury or surgery that involves the bones and muscles. It is also an important way to train children to strengthen their bodies and use them correctly to prevent future injury or correct walking problems.

When to See a Doctor

It is important to see a pediatric orthopedist who specializes in treating children if your child has a bone or muscle problem. Talk to your child’s primary care provider about seeing a pediatric orthopedist if your child has problems walking, crooked limbs or spine, or any bone, muscle, or joint pain. If your child has a complex disorder such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, it may be necessary to see a pediatric orthopedist.

Support and Resources

OrthoKids (from the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America):