Orthopaedic Surgery

Orthopaedic surgery is a procedure on your musculoskeletal system. It can diagnose, treat, repair and prevent conditions that affect your bones, muscles and joints. Common types of orthopaedic surgery are ACL surgery and knee replacement surgery.


What is orthopaedic surgery?

Orthopaedic surgery is a medical specialty dedicated to treating, diagnosing or preventing conditions or injuries that affect your musculoskeletal system. Your musculoskeletal system contains your:

Your musculoskeletal system helps you move, hold your body weight and maintain your posture. An injury or an underlying medical condition can affect these parts of your body and cause pain or limit your range of motion. Orthopaedic surgery provides routine maintenance, or it repairs damage to your musculoskeletal system.

What are the types of orthopaedic surgery?

Orthopaedic surgeons may choose areas of the musculoskeletal system to focus on. They’ll repair, reconstruct or replace the following parts of your body:

  • Hip.
  • Knee.
  • Hand and wrist.
  • Foot and ankle.
  • Spine.
  • Shoulder and elbow.

In addition, orthopaedic surgeons may specialize in one of the following types of surgery:

  • Oncology (bone tumors).
  • Trauma or injuries.
  • Sports injuries and sports medicine.
  • Pediatric (children younger than 18).


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What conditions does orthopaedic surgery treat or manage?

Orthopaedic surgery helps treat or manage the following conditions:

How common is orthopaedic surgery?

Orthopaedic surgery is very common. The top two types of surgeries that orthopaedic surgeons perform are ACL surgery and knee replacement surgery.

Procedure Details

What happens before orthopaedic surgery?

Before orthopaedic surgery, you’ll meet with an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in the type of surgery you need. This initial meeting is called a consultation or an evaluation. They’ll take a complete medical history, examine the part of your body they plan to perform surgery on and review any imaging tests, like an X-ray, to understand more about your condition.

They’ll then schedule your surgery. Your surgeon will explain the risks, potential complications and your recovery time. If you have any questions, you should ask them during the consultation.

How long does it take to schedule orthopaedic surgery?

The timing of your surgery varies depending on your reason for surgery. If you have a severe break or fracture, you may need immediate surgery and there will be little to no wait time. If you choose an elective, nonemergency surgery, your surgeon may schedule your procedure a few days to weeks or months out. Talk to your surgeon during your consultation about the timeline of your surgery and how soon you can schedule it.


What happens during orthopaedic surgery?

On the day of your surgery, you’ll enter a healthcare setting, which is usually a hospital. A provider will help prepare you for surgery by taking your vitals and giving you IV fluids or medications as needed. You’ll need to take off all jewelry and clothing and change into a hospital gown that’ll be provided for you. Then, your healthcare team will transport you to an operating room so they can begin the surgery.

In the operating room on the day of your surgery, an anesthesiologist will administer anesthesia to make you fall asleep and not feel any pain. Once you’re asleep, your surgeon will begin the procedure.

The steps that your surgeon will take during your procedure vary based on the reason for your surgery. They’ll start by making a small incision in your skin using surgical tools. For common orthopaedic procedures, they may need to:

  • Repair a broken bone or fracture with screws, pins, rods or plates to make sure your bone heals correctly.
  • Remove damaged ligaments and replace them with either healthy tissue from another part of your body or use a graft from a donor.
  • Place metal or plastic caps on a bone in your joint to repair damage caused by arthritis.

Your surgeon will explain everything that they plan to do during the procedure and how they plan on doing it during your consultation.

When your surgeon completes the procedure, they’ll stitch up any openings that they made in your skin and wrap up your surgical site with a bandage.

What happens after orthopaedic surgery?

After your surgery, someone on your healthcare team will move you into a waiting area until your anesthesia wears off. You’ll either go home after staying in the recovery room for a few hours or stay in the hospital overnight for observation.

You’ll leave the hospital with instructions on how to take care of your surgical site and instructions on what activities are safe to do. You’ll need plenty of rest after your surgery. If you need to, you should make plans to have friends or family help you out until you’re able to return to your normal activities.

Depending on what kind of surgery you needed, you may be resting for several days until your body feels well enough. Talk to your surgeon about your normal activities. They’ll let you know if they’re safe to do or when it’ll be safe for you to resume your usual routine.

Your surgeon will check in to make sure you’re recovering as you should. They’ll schedule frequent follow-up appointments to track your healing progress. These appointments will happen days, weeks and months after your surgery.

During follow-up exams, your provider may take imaging tests, like an X-ray, to see how your musculoskeletal system is healing. You may need to participate in physical therapy to rebuild strength in parts of your body that had surgery.


Risks / Benefits

What are the advantages of orthopaedic surgery?

There are several advantages of orthopaedic surgery. It can:

  • Reduce pain.
  • Increase the function of part of your body.
  • Improve range of motion.
  • Fix breaks or fractures.
  • Remove damaging tumors.

What are the risks or complications of orthopaedic surgery?

While rare, all surgical procedures come with risks. While surgery is safe and effective, your surgeon will explain the risks of surgery during your consultation so you know what to expect. Possible risks of orthopaedic surgery could include:

  • Bleeding.
  • Infection.
  • Joint pain or stiff joints.
  • Blood clots.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Numbness.

If you have any questions about the risks or complications of your surgery, talk to your surgeon.

Recovery and Outlook

What is the recovery time for orthopaedic surgery?

The amount of time it’ll take for your body to heal after orthopaedic surgery varies based on the procedure. It can take a few weeks to several months. Your surgeon will discuss your recovery time and what you can do to help your body heal. On average, healing times for common orthopaedic surgeries include:

When can I continue my regular activities after surgery?

Depending on the type of surgery you had, your provider will advise you on what activities you can and can’t do. They’ll provide these instructions to you before and after surgery, so you can prepare for your recovery and ask for assistance from family and friends or caregivers during your healing process.

You should avoid participating in any strenuous activities, contact sports or heavy lifting after your surgery. For sports injury surgeries, it can take between six to nine months before you can go back to the field or court. It’s important to follow your provider’s instructions after surgery — overusing part of your body that should be resting can affect how you heal. This can lead to injuries, infections and possible repeat surgeries in the future.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I see a healthcare provider?

Visit a healthcare provider if you have the following symptoms after surgery:

  • A fever.
  • Swelling.
  • Color changes to your skin.
  • Severe pain.
  • Fluid or blood draining from the incision.

Your provider will schedule appointments to monitor how your body is healing after surgery. If you experience any complications from surgery in between these appointments, reach out to your provider immediately.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Orthopaedic surgery is a common type of surgery for your musculoskeletal system. It repairs, replaces or prevents certain conditions that can affect how you move and feel. Your surgeon will explain the risks of surgery and give you instructions on how you can help your body heal so you can get back to your regular activities stronger than before.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/17/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 216.444.2606