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How to Find the Right Orthopedist for You

June 27, 2024

A man shows his physician where is lower back aches.

If you have a condition or pain in your bones, muscles or joints, you may be searching for care from an orthopedist — a specialist physician who treats the musculoskeletal system. There are many different types of orthopedic specialists, though, and finding the right doctor may feel overwhelming.

Shazad Shaikh, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with Atlantic Health System, shares how different orthopedic specialties can treat your condition and how to choose the right physician for you.

Types of Orthopedic Doctors

The first step in searching for the right orthopedist is understanding the different options available. Depending on their specialty, orthopedists can be physicians or surgeons focusing on different areas of the body or types of conditions. Your primary care provider can help you understand what specialties to look for, especially if surgery could be a treatment option for you.

The most common orthopedic specialist include:

  • Foot and ankle specialists
  • Hand surgeons
  • Orthopedic oncologists
  • Orthopedic trauma surgeons
  • Pediatric orthopedists
  • Spine surgeons
  • Sports medicine specialists
  • Total joint and adult reconstructive surgeons

"When you are looking for an orthopedist, you want a physician or surgeon who specializes in a specific field because you know they will be an expert in that area and see those conditions frequently,” says Dr. Shaikh. “Specialized surgeons can also do more advanced procedures, so if you have a condition or injury that is more complex, they will be able to treat it with confidence.”

Choosing the Right Orthopedist for You

In addition to finding an orthopedist trained in the right specialty, patients should consider several other factors to make sure the doctor is the right fit for them.

  • Referrals and patient reviews: As a first step, ask your primary care provider for a referral to an orthopedist they recommend. It can also be helpful to hear the experiences of other patients in similar situations. Consider reading patient reviews on verified websites like Healthgrades.com
  • Credentials, qualifications and experience: Orthopedists should be board-certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery or the American Osteopathic Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. They should only practice in accredited hospitals and clinics and have experience treating your specific concerns.
  •  Hospital affiliation and quality: High hospital quality is associated with better patient outcomes and fewer complications. You’ll also want to make sure the hospital is convenient for you since many orthopedic procedures require many follow-up physical therapy and rehabilitation appointments.
  •  Insurance: To limit out-of-pocket costs, you’ll want to find an orthopedist that is covered under your insurance plan. Call the practice to check if they accept your insurance and if there are any other fees you should be aware of.
  •  Style and care philosophy: Make sure your physician communicates and answers questions in a way that is helpful for you. You should feel comfortable engaging with them and that they’re giving you the information you need to make informed decisions.

“When it comes to surgery, you want to build a level of trust with your provider," says Dr. Shaikh. “When undergoing a procedure, it is not just a single day operation – it’s a long experience that often requires time with rehab and recovery. You want to make sure you are comfortable and have an open line of communication with your provider.”

Be Proactive About Your Health

To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.

  • Orthopedics