common orthopaedic terms explained

Don’t Ask the Internet, Ask Us: Here Are Common Orthopaedic Terms, Explained

We’ve all done it. You have an ache or a pain that just doesn’t seem to go away, so you consult the obvious choice: Dr. Google. After falling down the internet rabbit hole, you emerge with more questions than answers (as well as a whole host of diagnoses that are likely many times worse than reality). 

If you find yourself searching for answers, the first step is to make an appointment with an actual doctor — not the kind that just plays one on the internet. But in case you haven’t reached for the phone quite yet, your research may have surfaced some common — yet sometimes confusing — orthopaedic concepts that now need defining.

Below, we’re listing just a few of the terms you may have encountered in your research that you also may hear during a visit to Great Basin Orthopaedics: 

Common Orthopaedic Terms, Explained

Orthopaedics — Let’s start with the most common term, which is the core of what we do. Orthopaedic (or orthopedic) has two root words: “ortho” means “straight,” and “pedic” is from “paideia” which refers to the rearing of children. Originally, orthopedics was specifically about the treatment of malformities in children, like bowlegs or knock knees. But it has evolved over the years to include the care of the skeletal system and its interconnecting parts for all age groups, including: 

  • bones
  • muscles
  • joints
  • tendons
  • ligaments

Stress fracture — These are essentially small cracks in a bone. They're caused by repetitive force, such as repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances. Track and field athletes are very familiar with these kinds of injuries. Another word for a stress fracture: hairline fracture.

Open fracture — These are also called compound fractures, and they occur when there is an open wound or break in the skin near the site of a broken bone. Most often, we see these wounds being caused by a fragment of bone breaking through the skin when the injury occurs. Clearly, these are very different from a closed fracture — in which no open wound has occurred — and requires very different treatment. 

Tear — When someone suffers from a cut to either a muscle or ligament, this is called either a rupture or a tear. These injuries are often the result of a sudden body movement. “Rupture” and “tear” are used interchangeably. 

Sprain — A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. Ligaments are strong bands of connective tissue that connects the end of one bone with another. Their function: to stabilize and support the body's joints. At GBO, we often see sprains in ankles, knees, and wrists. Sprains are classified by severity (1-3, or “mild” to “severe). 

Strain — While a strain may sound similar to a sprain, it is not the same. A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone. Strains often occur in the back or leg (typically, the hamstring). At GBO, the majority of strains we see are in patients who are playing sports — maybe on the high school or college playing fields, for example, or a child or adult playing recreationally. 

Minimally invasive surgery — Whenever possible, if a Great Basin Orthopedics patient requires surgery, we opt for minimally invasive procedures. What does this mean? It is surgery performed through one or multiple small, targeted incisions instead of one large opening. The obvious benefit for the patient is less trauma to the surrounding soft tissues with faster recovery and less discomfort. Minimally invasive orthopaedic surgeries can include joint replacements and arthroscopies (hip, knee, ankle, wrist, shoulder and elbow). They are sometimes called keyhole surgeries.

The examples above are just a few of the terms you may hear from a doctor at Great Basin Orthopaedics. But please keep in mind: When it comes to your muscle, bone and joint health, ignorance is not bliss. It’s better to have the comfort and confidence of a diagnosis than to remain searching for your own answers. 

If you’re experiencing chronic pain and worried it might be a strain, sprain, fracture or something else, give GBO a call at (775) 786-1600.