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What to Expect During an Orthopaedic Evaluation

15 June 2014

When you meet with an orthopaedic surgeon for the first time, it is helpful to know what to expect during the orthopaedic evaluation. Your initial appointment will most likely include one or more of the following: an exam, X-rays and/or MRI, and physical tests.

Comprehensive medical history examination

Be prepared to describe any and all pain that you are currently experiencing, even if you are not sure whether or not it is connected to the specific orthopaedic condition (e.g., knee pain). Describe the degree to which the pain is interfering with daily functioning such as getting in and out of the car and lying down to sleep.

If there are any previous injuries that may be playing a role in your current orthopaedic condition, make sure to discuss those as well. If you have been keeping a record of your pain (e.g., what time of day and how often it occurs), bring it along to the initial consultation so that you can share it with the surgeon.

The doctor will also ask you about your general health and any existing conditions that you have including arthritis, osteoporosis, anemia, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Some of these conditions can impact the treatment recommendation that a surgeon makes.

Physical tests

Your doctor will use varying physical tests to assess your range of motion, swelling, reflexes, and skin condition. For example, if you have knee pain, the surgeon will use an instrument that resembles a protractor to measure how far you can extend your leg in front and flex it behind you. The doctor will observe your general ability to move around while walking, sitting, standing, climbing stairs, bending forward and backward, and performing other basic movements. These tests help the orthopaedic surgeon rule out or confirm possible diagnoses.

X-rays and other imaging

X-rays can reveal a wide range of conditions including change in size or shape (e.g., narrowing or thickening) for a particular part of the body (e.g., knee or hip joint), cysts, deformity, and incorrect alignment. Surgeons use MRIs to detect early stages of disease.

If you have had previous X-rays, the surgeon may review them to look for any changes or deterioration to your condition over time. Surgeons use X-rays and MRIs in combination with a physical examination to gain a better understanding of the current state of your condition and whether or not there are any existing complications (e.g., an infection or a tendon issue).

The exam, testing, and imaging help a surgeon determine the best treatment option. Make sure that the physician discusses the risks and complications of the treatment, the recovery and rehabilitation process, whether or not a hospital stay is required, and how much it will cost.