Orthopedists are medical specialists who help to correct bone and muscle deformities such as fractures. They treat the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedists are surgeons who also provide a range of non-surgical medical care. Workers often need the help of orthopedists when they fall, when a body part is crushed (such as in a forklift accident), when something drops on them such as tools from a scaffold, or due to a host of other reasons. In some cases, there is some overlap as between orthopedists and neurosurgeons, most typically in the case of spinal injuries. This is because in addition to bones, the spinal processes that make up the spinal column contain, surround, and protect the spinal cord, which is the main “trunk” or nerve which provides the body with feeling and function. Then again, there are orthopedists who specialize in spinal surgery.
In any event, some of the common reasons workers need orthopedic care include the following:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, “the carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway surrounded by bones and ligaments on the palm side of your hand. When the median nerve is compressed, the symptoms can include numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and arm.”
- Dislocated shoulder. A shoulder dislocation is called a subluxation. While rare, shoulder dislocations do occur. Surgery may be required in severe cases.
- Osteoarthritis and bursitis. Osteoarthritis happens when your cartilage wears down as you age. Bursitis involves the part of your body that cushions your muscles, and other body parts – near your joints. Bursitis is the inflammation of these cushions (called bursae). Despite the fact that these conditions may exist without any trauma, in the context of a workers’ compensation case, it is often a trauma that aggravates these dormant or asymptomatic conditions that are now very painful.
- Plantar fasciitis. The Mayo Clinic defines plantar fasciitis as heel pain which “involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes (plantar fascia).”
- Sprains. Most people sprain some part of their body during their lifetime. Standard treatments include rest, ice, and compression.
- Stress fractures. These breaks usually aren’t as painful as traditional bone breaks. They normally occur through wear, tear, and stress instead of due to a single accident. The most common parts of the body that suffers stress fractures are the ankle and feet.
- Tennis elbow. This injury is normally due to repetitive motions that damage the tendons near the elbow. Unfortunately, unless aggravated by a trauma, other than carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress injuries are generally not covered by workers compensation.
- Torn ligaments and the meniscus in the knee. These injuries, which are common to athletes, also happen to workers. According to the Mayo Clinic, a torn meniscus can be due to any activity that causes a worker to forcefully rotate or twist a knee. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) may tear requiring surgery an extensive rehabilitation. The meniscus is the cartilage around your knee. A healthy meniscus allows your knee to move freely. If the knee does not respond to less invasive surgeries, depending on your age and the condition of the knee, a total or partial knee replacement may be an option.
- Torn rotator cuff. This injury involves the tendons and muscles near the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff keeps “the head of your upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder”
- Ankle Injuries/fractures. During falls from heights, these injuries can be severe and debilitating. One of the worst is known as a pylon fracture, where essentially the leg bone smashes down into the foot bones and almost completely destroys them. Usually, an orthopedic doctor who specializes in foot and ankle surgery will perform an internal fixation surgery with plates and screws. Fortunately, medical technology has improved in recent years to the point that many foot and ankle specialists are now doing ankle replacements.
Fractures that happen due to workplace accidents
The human body has more than 200 bones. The human hand, alone, has 27 bones.
Bone fractures, such as leg fractures, are generally categorized in the following ways according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Open (compound) fracture. Here, the broken bone pierces the skin. Surgery is normally required for several reasons including reducing the risk of an infection.
- Closed (simple) fracture. Here, the broken bone does not penetrate the skin.
- Incomplete fracture. “This term means that the bone is cracked, but it isn’t separated into two parts.”
- Complete fracture. Here, the broken bone snaps “into two or more parts.”
- Displaced fracture. “In this type of fracture, the bone fragments on each side of the break are not aligned. A displaced fracture may require surgery to realign the bones properly.”
Another type of fracture, called a greenstick fracture, is more common in children who are less likely to be employees. With this type of fracture, “the bone cracks but doesn’t break all the way through.”
What are the treatments for fractures?
Doctors will normally conduct an oral and physical examination if they suspect a fracture. They’ll use X-Rays to locate where the break is, the type of break, and the severity of the break. In some cases, an orthopedist may order a CT scan or an MRI.
The treatments vary depending on the type and severity of the break. A common initial step, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to use a splint to immobilize the leg. If a worker has a displaced fracture, the orthopedist may need to “manipulate the pieces back into their proper positions before applying a splint — a process called reduction. Some fractures are splinted for a day to allow swelling to subside before they are casted.”
A splint or cast helps to immobilize the broken bone. Broken bones, such as broken legs, may require six to eight weeks to heal. During this time, the worker may need to work with a physical therapist to learn how to use a cane or crutches. It’s important not to put any weight on the broken bone and to restrict the movement of the bone so the bone can heal properly.
An orthopedist may recommend over-the-counter pain medications, “such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or a combination of the two. If you’re experiencing severe pain, your doctor might prescribe stronger pain medications.”
Depending on the location of the break, the type of break, and the severity of the break; workers will likely need physical therapy after the cast or splint is removed. The full rehab process can take months or longer.
Possible surgery for broken bones
Orthopedists may need to use rods, screws, plates, or other devices to ensure the bones stay in the proper position while the fracture heals. Usually, this type of surgery is known as an “Open Reduction Internal Fixation” (ORIF) surgery. Many of our clients undergo these types of surgeries. The recovery period after these surgeries can be long. These devices, according to the Mayo Clinic, are generally used for:
- “Multiple fractures
- An unstable or displaced fracture
- Loose bone fragments that could enter a joint
- Damage to the surrounding ligaments
- Fractures that extend into a joint
- A fracture that is the result of a crushing accident
- A fracture in particular areas of your leg, such as your thighbone”
Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers for more than a quarter of a century. He works with and reviews detailed medical records experienced orthopedists, physical therapists, and other healthcare provides to properly assess your workplace injuries, the need for surgeries or other medical care, and the time and treatments you’ll need to return to good health. To discuss y our North Carolina or Virginia work injury case, call me at 888-667-8295. or fill out my online contact form to make an appointment.
Workers can also complete our New Electronic Case Review. It’s a new type of communication method for our clients that we’re offering – to allow workers to reach us remotely.