What Is Pediatric Orthopedics?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 10, 2023
3 min read

Pediatric orthopedics is a branch of medicine devoted to treating children’s joints, muscles, and bones. A pediatric orthopedist is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of those areas in children ranging from infants to teenagers.

Pediatric orthopedists (also called a pediatric orthopedic surgeon) can perform surgery when necessary but they also provide other kinds of treatments, like casts or limb braces. 

Because children’s bodies are still growing, they have a very different joint, muscle, and bone makeup than adults. Usually, children are referred to a pediatric orthopedist by their pediatrician if issues arise.

Children’s bodies change so much throughout childhood, and parents can easily mistake growing pains for abnormalities. Hence, it is essential to consult your child’s pediatrician before seeking out a pediatric orthopedist.

Pediatric orthopedists use surgical and other medical therapies to treat children. You’ll work with your pediatric orthopedist to design a specific treatment plan for your child.

Pediatric orthopedists are specially trained in talking to children about their medical conditions. Not only do children have different physical ailments, but they also process them differently. 

At a minimum, pediatric orthopedists complete a decade of schooling after receiving their undergraduate degree. In order to become a pediatric orthopedist, a person must:

  • Graduate from an accredited medical school
  • Complete a five-year residency training program
  • Complete a one-year subspecialty training in pediatric orthopedics and pediatric spinal deformity

It can be stressful when your child needs medical help. Pediatric orthopedists have extensive training, education, and practical experience. 

Because pediatric orthopedists are specialists, most children are referred to a pediatric orthopedist by their pediatrician. The scope of pediatric orthopedics is quite broad, but some examples of conditions that pediatric orthopedists treat are: 

  • Abnormalities in the growing process
  • Scoliosis 
  • Broken bones
  • Bone and joint infections
  • Clubfoot
  • Problems walking
  • Sports injuries
  • Spinal issues
  • Ankle or foot surgeries
  • Scoliosis
  • Nerve issues
  • Limb deformities
  • Issues walking or moving

Talk to your child’s pediatrician about any issue that you think might need a pediatric orthopedist. If you need one, they can give you a referral. 

When visiting a pediatric orthopedist for the first time, make sure to bring any necessary medical documents and insurance information. You and your child will explain your child’s symptoms and medical history to the pediatric orthopedist. You may want to make sure your child wears loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. 

The pediatric orthopedist will talk to your child about their problem and examine them. They may also do some sort of test to get a better idea of what’s going on. Depending on the situation this could mean an MRI or X-ray.

Once the doctor has made a diagnosis, they’ll discuss a treatment plan with you, and schedule any additional necessary procedures. Among the treatments they may recommend: a cast brace, physical therapy or surgery. The treatment will depend on your child’s issue and diagnosis.

Pediatric orthopedists work to connect with your child. They might communicate differently than a regular orthopedist would. Pediatric orthopedist offices are also typically decorated in bright colors and have child-sized chairs and toys.