What Is An Orthopaedist?

You may have heard of an orthopedic doctor, but what exactly is an orthopaedist, and what do they do? What parts of the body do they treat? How do I know which one to choose? Here are the ins and outs of orthopedic doctors and more about Dr. Peter Howard, an orthopaedist in Tampa Bay who’s ready to serve you!


The body’s framework is made up of:

  • Bones.
  • Muscles.
  • Nerves.
  • Soft tissues like joints, ligaments, and tendons that connect bones and muscles.

All these parts together create a network called the musculoskeletal system.


Bones, muscles, and soft tissues are continually under pressure when participating in everyday movements like walking. Over time, wear and tear can bring about age and use-related damage. Sudden events with too much force or motion beyond normal limits can also lead to problems that need an orthopedist.

The Orthopedist

Often, musculoskeletal injuries are diagnosed and treated by orthopedists. They are specially trained to handle injuries and diseases impacting the musculoskeletal system. You may see it spelled as orthopedist (without the a) and orthopaedist. Both spellings are correct. Common injuries diagnosed and treated by orthopedists include:

  • Bruises.
  • Soft tissue damage – sprains.
  • Muscle wounds – strains.
  • Bone fractures.
  • The stiffening or hardening of soft tissues – medically called a contracture.
  • Pressure on nerves – impingement.

Orthopedists identify and address bone, muscle, or soft tissue-related diseases such as:

  • Joint inflammation (arthritis).
  • Bone weakening (osteoporosis).
  • Tendon irritation (tendinitis).


It is common for orthopedic doctors to have sub-specialties. This means they have received additional specialized training in one specific musculoskeletal part or medical issue.

For example, some orthopedists specialize in diagnosing and treating concerns related to the hands, wrists, shoulders, neck, back, feet, ankles, spine, hip, or knees. Others may focus on sports medicine, orthopedic trauma, orthopedic-related cancer, children’s issues, and specific surgeries.

Dr. Howard is sub-specialty trained in sports medicine and arthroscopy, which helps him focus on helping athletes and weekend warriors get back to full activity. His other areas of interest include the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, and biologic therapies. Dr. Howard is a member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, and the Arthroscopy Association of North America.

When Should You Consider Visiting An Orthopedist?

You or a loved one are strongly encouraged to schedule an appointment with an orthopedist if you experience:

  • Constant pain.
  • Mobility struggles.
  • Swelling or redness.
  • Signs of bone fractures.

It is normal to experience minor aches following physical activity or short periods. Any discomfort lasting for an extended time might show that you have a more significant injury. Many orthopedists believe that diagnosis and treatment are needed if your pain:

  • Does not improve after a few days.
  • It worsens with time.
  • It interferes with your ability to perform routine tasks.

An orthopedist will examine any physical problem limiting your mobility. Sometimes, age-related decline in the strength and agility of soft tissues might result in difficulties standing or walking. These problems should never be ignored or blown off as part of the normal aging process. Underlying causes could worsen and restrict movement to an even greater extent and need more aggressive treatments.

Pain accompanied by swelling or redness should be looked at by an orthopedist as soon as possible. These symptoms suggest that damage to surrounding tissues has taken place. Swelling is a common symptom in injuries like strains or sprains. It may even signal a more severe concern like fluid buildup, infection, or arthritis.

Bone fractures are potentially dangerous because:

  • They do not heal on their own.
  • They could become more severe if not treated right away.
  • Can impact other nearby body parts.

You should be immediately examined if you notice any signs of a fracture like:

  • Sharp, stabbing pains.
  • Significant swelling.
  • Noticeable bruising or bleeding.
  • Limited mobility.
  • Numbness.

The Diagnostic Process

Orthopedists follow a multi-step diagnostic process.

During the first phase, your doctor will ask you important questions such as:

  • When did your pain start?
  • Do any specific activities worsen the discomfort?
  • Did the injury happen after participating in a sport or after an accident?
  • What type of professional work do you do?

The next step is an examination of your injured body part. The doctor will then carefully look for any abnormalities and test your mobility and pain threshold. This process can include having you perform various movements or exercises.

The first two phases may provide enough information for your orthopedist to reach a definite conclusion. You might also need internal imaging tests like X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans, depending on the injury. These devices help your physician confirm injuries like fractures and tears to muscle and soft tissue.

Potential Treatment Options

Treatment will depend upon your injury’s severity. Your orthopedist will also consider important factors, including your:

  • Age.
  • General health.
  • Other injuries or complications.
  • Level of physical fitness.

Minor bruises, sprains, or strains are often treated using home care techniques like:

  • Icing the injured body part.
  • Compression.
  • Elevating the injury above your heart.
  • Resting the wound as much as possible.

More severe cases might need for the injury to be placed inside movement-restricting devices like casts or braces for specific time frames, followed by physical therapy. This treatment is designed to help you regain movement and any lost mobility.

The most serious injuries like grade three sprains or strains, bone fractures, or severe cases of arthritis may need surgery. Surgical procedures will vary from less invasive to complex, depending on the problem. Surgery is usually followed by several weeks to months of physical therapy.

Becoming An Orthopedist

You can rest assured that your orthopedist is highly educated.

Orthopedic doctors have earned undergraduate degrees, a medical doctorate, and have served at least five or six years as a resident inside an established and accredited medical facility. They also receive specialized training in musculoskeletal disciplines and ultra-specialized training on a specific body part (like the wrist or ankle).

  • Qualities Of A Good Orthopedist

While all orthopedists have obtained the necessary education and training, certain qualities often stand out. When searching for an orthopedist near you, pay close attention to doctors that are known for their:

Social Skills

Your orthopedist should be easy to talk to and someone you are comfortable with. They should also have a pleasant demeanor, keep you informed about your condition, and speak in simple terms that are easy for you to understand.


You should work with a doctor who understands your feelings. They should also reassure you when you are nervous or frightened, regardless of how many cases they’ve seen.

Letting The Patient Decide

A good orthopedist will never tell a patient what to do or demand that they take a specific action. The doctor’s job is to:

  • Provide a firm diagnosis.
  • Suggest all possible treatment options.
  • Offer their recommendation and explain why.
  • Allow you to decide what best serves your particular needs and circumstances.

Next Steps

If you live in the Tampa Bay area and are looking for a professional, experienced, and patient-minded orthopedist, look no further than Dr. Peter Howard. Dr. Howard is a world-renowned physician who has worked with top athletes and specializes in hip, elbow, knee, and shoulder injuries.

For more information about Dr. Peter Howard, his practice, or his services, please visit our About page. Contact us to schedule your appointment!