Angie's LIST Guide to
Pediatric orthopedics

When children injure their bones or joints, they need the services of a pediatric orthopedic doctor. These medical specialists have insight into how children's bones grow and change as they develop.


Photo collage of babies and doctors.
Children often are diagnosed with illnesses and conditions that affect adults, but because of their special needs, they are often referred to pediatric specialists. Specialists in all areas can provide treatment plans to improve health and quality of life.

What a pediatric orthopedist does

Orthopedics is the branch of medicine that focuses on the bones, joints and limbs. In other words, orthopedic doctors can treat problems with joint infections or injuries, spine or limb deformities and broken bones. A pediatric orthopedic surgeon has specific training and experience in treating these problems in children. When it comes to limbs, the needs of children are much different than adults, whose bones are fully solidified, fused and grown.

Pediatric doctors treat children from birth through their teenage years. Because children are growing so much during this time, their joints and bones are constantly changing. This is what makes a pediatric orthopedic doctor so important when children are facing injuries or other problems with their limbs. An orthopedic surgeon trained in treating adults may not be able to provide this level of expertise.

Because these orthopedic doctors cater to children, they understand how to talk to kids about their medical conditions. This can be crucial in getting an accurate diagnosis and choosing the right treatment because kids are not always able to state their needs as clearly as adults. In addition, these doctors have specialized diagnostic tools designed to test children, so they can reach an accurate and timely diagnosis.

When to see a pediatric orthopedist

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons are often called upon when babies have birth defects affecting their spine or limbs, for instance, in dealing with scoliosis or a club foot.

Children may also need to visit the pediatric orthopedic surgeon for a consult if they have abnormalities with their gait. For instance, children who develop a limp that does not resolve with normal treatment may need the help of one of these professionals.

Sometimes children will experience problems with their joints, including arthritis, which would require orthopedic care. 

Because children are active and their bones are still developing, a large majority will break a bone at least once in their childhood. By working with an orthopedic surgeon, parents can ensure that their child's broken bone is set properly and can continue to grow as it should.

Treatment options from a children's orthopedic surgeon include minimally invasive options like braces and physical therapy. They can treat sprained joints and are also trained in surgery, when necessary, to correct joint and limb problems.

Finding a pediatric orthopedist

To practice in pediatric orthopedics, a doctor must complete medical school with an emphasis on pediatrics, complete an orthopedic surgery residence program and complete further training in pediatrics and pediatric orthopedic medicine. These specialists typically work in a hospital or medical center facility, although some work independently.

If your children need to see a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, you often may need a referral from your pediatrician first, and some health insurance plans require it.

Read through the listing of pediatric orthopedic surgeons in the provider directory available from your health insurance company. Carefully research the doctors you are considering. Verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings.

Look for an pediatric orthopedic office with kid-friendly decorations, play areas and friendly staff members who understand children and their needs. These offices often make kids feel more comfortable, which can be important when dealing with the trauma of a broken bone or the reality of potential surgical treatment for a condition. When children are relaxed and comfortable in the office, they are more willing to cooperate with the doctor, even if some of the things the doctor asks the child to do are uncomfortable, such as moving an injured limb.


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