U.S. Air Force surgeons Dr. Patrick Miller (left), Dr. Michael Hughes (right), and surgical technician SrA Ray Wilson from the 379th Expeditionary Medical Squadron, repair the ruptured achilles tendon of a servicemember on March 11, 2003. The doctors are performing this surgey at a field hospital in a foward-deployed location. (U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt. DERRICK C. GOODE)(RELEASED)

The musculoskeletal system allows our bodies to move in amazing ways. It includes over 650 muscles, 206 bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, connective tissue, and joints. When a serious injury occurs within the musculoskeletal system, special surgery may be required. 

The field of orthopedic surgery, also known as orthopedics, isn’t a single surgical procedure but rather the term for a wide range of surgeries. Here’s a closer look at some common types of orthopedic surgery, how they help a person get back on their feet and what a person can expect during recovery. 

Knee Replacement

Knees suffer a lot of injuries. They help support the load of the body and move in dynamic ways. Over time, wear and tear can impact the functioning of the knee and cause a significant amount of pain. Ultimately, a person may need knee replacement surgery, particularly in cases of severe osteoarthritis.

After an orthopedic surgeon does a thorough physical examination, age and daily activities will also help determine if knee replacement is the best option. The procedure involves resurfacing the knee bones that have been damaged. The surgeon will use either plastic or metal parts to replace the kneecap and portions at the ends of the knee bones. 

The recovery period for knee replacement can be lengthy. Usually, patients will have to spend a night or two in the hospital for observation. Patients must refrain from using the knee just after surgery and then go through physical therapy to slowly regain use. While you are on bedrest a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine may be used to been the therapy. If the patient is experiencing pain, medications may be prescribed so that the physical therapy can be completed.

Hip Replacement

Hip and knee replacement are the same in that they provide significant pain relief and increased mobility. Hip replacement is not typically the first mode of treatment. However, if there is significant joint damage or pain impacts daily functions it’s sometimes recommended. A hip fracture or arthritis may also lead to replacement surgery. 

During hip replacement, also known as total hip arthroplasty, the damaged hip joint is removed and replaced with a metal and/or ceramic prosthetic joint. The prosthetic joint is either fused to surrounding bones using surgical cement or positioned next to a porous surface to naturally fuse. Today, minimally invasive procedures are used so that only one or two small incisions are made. 

Recovery after hip replacement includes spending several days in the hospital. While there the patient meets with a physical therapist and begins moving the joint as soon as possible. The physical therapist will create an exercise regimen that must be followed at home. It can take a few months to fully regain strength and mobility.

Soft Tissue Repair

When a ligament or tendon is torn soft tissue repair surgery is used to correct the tear. Torn ligaments are common in the knees and ankles, which can impair movement and joint stability. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) repair is an example of this type of surgery.

Soft tissue repair surgeries are reconstructive and may involve replacing the ligament with soft tissue from another area of the body. Arthoscopy is generally used so that the surgeon can observe the damage before the surgery. 

Like replacement surgeries, soft tissue repair takes time to heal. After the surgery is complete a brace is usually worn to minimize movement while the joint heals. Physical therapy is also needed so that the patient regains use of the joint. Major progress can be made within weeks of the surgery, but full recovery will take at least a few months.  

Bone Fracture Repair

For many bone fractures, an orthopedic surgeon can use non-invasive techniques to reset the bone before placing a cast. However, some bone fracture cases require surgery to correction alignment and ensure the fracture heals correctly. 

Bone fracture repair can happen anywhere in the body. It involves the use of pins, screws and metal plates to reposition the bones and hold them in place. 

Recovery after bone fracture repair largely depends on the extent of the injury and its location. Typically, the recovery period is 6-8 weeks. Physical therapy may also be needed afterward to help the patient regain full mobility.