Non-Surgical Orthopaedic Interventions

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Orthopaedics is a medical speciality that focuses on disorders that affect the bones, joints, muscles ligaments and tendons. These conditions can result from various factors, including injury, disease, and degeneration. Orthopaedic specialists aim to diagnose, treat, and prevent these disorders by restoring function to the musculoskeletal system and relieving pain and discomfort.

What Is Non-Operative Orthopaedics? 

Non-surgical interventions are often preferred in orthopaedics when the condition is mild, the patient is not a good candidate for surgery due to age or medical condition, or when the patient wishes to avoid surgery's risks and recovery time. Common nin-surgical approaches include physical therapy, immobilisation, medications, and injections. These approaches can help improve mobility, strength, and flexibility, reduce pain and inflammation, aid in healing, and prevent further damage.

Types Of Non-Surgical Orthopaedic Interventions

Orthopaedic specialists work with patients to develop a personalised treatment plan that caters to the patient’s specific needs. The care team might employ surgical and non-surgical methods to manage conditions such as arthritis, fractures, spinal disorders, sports injuries, and congenital disorders. Whether using surgical or non-surgical methods, orthopaedic specialists aim to restore function and alleviate pain and discomfort.

1. Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy can help improve mobility, strength, balance, coordination and flexibility, and reduce pain and inflammation. It can also help with post-operative rehabilitation. There are different types of physical therapy, all relating to the treatment of different musculoskeletal conditions:

Therapeutic Exercises 

These are exercises that are designed to help improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the affected area. Therapeutic exercises may include stretching, resistance training, and aerobic conditioning.

Manual Therapy

Manual therapy involves hands-on techniques that are used to mobilise soft tissue, joints, and muscles. These techniques may include massage, joint mobilisation, and manipulation.

Neuromuscular Re-education

This is a type of physical therapy that focuses on helping patients improve their balance, coordination, and proprioception (awareness of the position of their body in space).


Modalities are physical agents or devices that are used to reduce pain and inflammation. Common modalities used in orthopaedic physical therapy include heat, ice, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation.

Aquatic Therapy

Aquatic therapy involves exercising in a pool, which can help reduce the impact on joints and improve the overall range of motion.

Gait Training

Gait training involves working on the way a patient walks or runs. This type of therapy can help improve balance, coordination, and overall movement efficiency.

Post-Operative Rehabilitation

After surgery, physical therapy is often required to help the patient regain function and mobility in the affected area. 

Physical therapy can be an effective way to manage many orthopaedic conditions, and it's essential to work with a qualified physical therapist to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific needs.

2. Immobilisation 

Bracing and casting are both effective methods that can be used to immobilise an injured area, aiding in healing and preventing further damage. Bracing can be divided into two types: soft and rigid. Soft braces, made of elastic or neoprene material, offer support and stability to the affected area and are often used to treat minor injuries such as sprains and strains. Rigid braces, made of metal or plastic, provide more support and stability and are used to treat more serious injuries such as fractures and dislocations.

Casting involves the use of either plaster or fibreglass material to immobilise a limb or joint. Plaster casts, made of plaster of Paris, are commonly used to treat fractures and dislocations. Fibreglass casts, made of fibreglass, provide more support and stability than plaster casts and are often used to treat more serious injuries. 

3. Medications 

Medications are often used to manage pain and inflammation related to treating musculoskeletal conditions. There are several types of medications used in non-surgical orthopaedic treatments, including:

  1. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These medications are commonly used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation in conditions such as osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis.
  2. Analgesics: These are pain relievers such as acetaminophen, which can be used to alleviate mild to moderate pain.
  3. Corticosteroids: These medications are potent anti-inflammatory drugs that can be injected into joints or soft tissues to reduce inflammation and pain.
  4. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These are used to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and can slow down the progression of the disease.
  5. Biologic agents: These are a type of medication that targets specific proteins involved in the immune response and are used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.
  6. Topical creams and ointments: These are applied directly to the affected area and can include topical NSAIDs and lidocaine patches.
  7. Injections: Injection therapy involves the use of corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid, platelet-rich plasma, and other substances to reduce pain and inflammation.

It is important to note that medication treatment options will vary depending on the specific condition and the patient's individual needs. A healthcare professional should be consulted before starting any new medication regimen.

4. Lifestyle Changes

Adopting several key lifestyle habits is important to maintaining a strong and healthy musculoskeletal system. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is essential, with foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients helping to strengthen bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Regular exercise, including low-impact activities like walking, swimming, and cycling, helps to strengthen muscles and improve joint flexibility. Weight management is also crucial in reducing the strain on joints and bones and thus the risk of developing orthopaedic conditions. Additionally, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can help prevent orthopaedic conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis. Wearing supportive footwear is also important to reduce the strain on joints and bones. 

Final Verdict: Are Non-Surgical Orthopaedic Interventions Effective?

Non-surgical orthopaedic interventions are effective for managing musculoskeletal disorders, especially for mild cases or when surgery is not recommended or desired. Common interventions include physical therapy, immobilisation, medications and lifestyle changes. Each patient’s treatment plan will be carefully created to contain the right combination of non-surgical and, if necessary, surgical methods to treat their specific condition. 

Non-operative orthopaedics refers to specialist doctors who diagnose and treat musculoskeletal injuries via non surgically invasive techniques, such as physical therapy.

No, orthopaedic doctors can find alternatives to orthopaedic surgery for patients where appropriate. For instance, a patient seeking pain-relief may find that injections can help long-term.

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