When to See an Orthopaedic Doctor Instead of Your Primary Care Physician

If you’ve recently been injured or are experiencing chronic pain, it’s time to see a doctor. You may be wondering whether a visit to your primary care physician is worth the trouble or if going straight to a specialist is the answer. After all, more often than not, you think your primary care physician should be your first stop. Depending on your specific injury or health issue, however, going directly to a specialist—like an orthopaedic physician—can save you time and money.

doctor with clipboard

Primary Care

What is the difference between a primary care physician and an orthopaedic specialist? A primary care physician is a medical professional trained in internal medicine, who serves as a patient’s comprehensive, first point of contact in the healthcare system. Most patients will see a primary care physician when experiencing symptoms with no known diagnosis or known problem origin.

A primary care physician is important for preventative health and long term health maintenance, in addition to immediate diagnosis and treatment. In the event of a health issue or injury that requires specialized care, a primary care physician will coordinate care for their patients’ specialized treatment. Establishing a primary care physician for yourself is handy in the sense that you’ll have someone on hand who’s well-versed in your medical history should you ever require further direction for specialized treatment. (American Academy of Family Physicians)


While your primary care physician should be familiar with the broader picture of your health, they may not have the expertise to effectively treat certain conditions. In these instances, it’ll be wise to spend time with a specialist, someone like an orthopaedic physician. As the name suggests, a specialist focuses in one area of medicine and possesses a deeper knowledge and understanding for conditions that aren’t treated through primary care.

An orthopaedic physician specializes in the treatment of the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is made up of bones, joints, tendons, muscles, nerves, ligaments, and cartilage. Orthopaedic physicians treat injuries to the musculoskeletal system through both surgical and non-surgical means, and will help you decide the right course of treatment. (Very Well)

Signs You Need to See an Orthopaedic Specialist

When is it time to see an orthopaedic specialist? If you have already established primary care, and are experiencing symptoms pointing to a musculoskeletal injury, it will save you time and money to go to an orthopaedic specialist directly instead of seeing your primary care physician first. You can ask your primary care physician for a referral, or find a specialist through your network if you’re experiencing symptoms like:

  • A soft tissue injury that has not improved in 48 hours
  • Chronic pain in the joints and bones, particularly in places such as the neck, knee, elbows, and/or back
  • Stiffness and reduction in range of motion in joints
  • Inability to perform everyday tasks as a result of these symptoms
  • (Orthopaedic Specialty Group, P.C.)
back pain

What to Expect at Your Orthopaedic Appointment

Once you’ve decided to see an orthopaedic specialist, here’s what you can expect from your visit:

  • Paperwork – as with any first-time doctor’s appointment, expect to fill out paperwork regarding your symptoms, medical history, and insurance. Your primary care physician can help by providing documentation of past conditions and treatments.
  • Exam – your orthopaedic specialist will begin by getting to know you as a patient, and your medical history. Next they will examine the areas that are causing pain or discomfort. The exam may include tests for things like limb strength and range of motion.
  • Additional Tests – if your orthopaedic specialist cannot diagnose the problem through their initial examination, they may order additional tests such as x-rays and MRIs to better pinpoint the problem.
  • Treatment Plan – once your orthopaedic specialist has diagnosed the problem, treatment can begin. Many injuries that orthopaedic specialists treat can be addressed with non-invasive treatments such as oral or injectable medication, at-home exercise, and physical therapy. Your specialist will create a treatment plan tailored to you, including plans for surgical treatment if necessary.
  • (Orthopaedic Specialty Group, P.C.)
Team Photo

A visit to (MidAmerica Orthopaedics) will immediately set you up with an orthopaedic specialist allowing for definitive, cost-effective treatment. Our physicians will craft a personalized treatment plan best suited to treat each patient with the help of our team of specialists, physical and occupational therapists, and orthopaedic surgeons.

To learn more about MidAmerica Orthopaedics and the different treatment options available to you, visit our website.

To schedule an appointment with a MidAmerica Orthopaedic physician, call (708) 237-7200. You can also request an appointment online.

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