What is Orthopaedic Trauma? Definition, Treatment, and Prevention

Orthopaedic trauma refers to a serious injury of the skeletal or muscular system caused by an external force, such as a fall or a car accident. While this type of injury is not always life-threatening, it can be life-changing, which is why it’s crucial to seek medical attention right away.

That doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to your nearest urgent care center – these injuries may require the unique expertise of an orthopaedic trauma physician.

Dr. Seth Cooper, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health, wants patients to understand what types of injuries are considered traumatic so that they can receive the appropriate care.

In this blog, we explore what constitutes orthopaedic trauma, common causes, and how orthopaedic surgeons like Dr. Cooper treat patients with traumatic injuries.

Definition of Orthopaedic Trauma

Orthopaedic trauma is any severe injury to the bones, joints, and/or soft tissue that is caused by an external source. These injuries are often the result of a sudden incident, such as a car accident or fall, but not always. Trauma can also be caused by overuse – for example, running long distances is a common cause of tibial stress fractures, small hairline cracks in the lower leg.

The definition of orthopaedic trauma is broad because it encompasses a spectrum of injuries, from simple hairline fractures to life-threatening accidents. While there are many different types of traumatic orthopaedic injuries, the goal of surgeons who specialize in this area is the same – to restore the function of the injured body part(s) as quickly and effectively as possible.

Did you know? The word "trauma" comes from the Greek word for "wound". It has evolved over the years to encompass both physical and emotional wounds.

Common Causes of Orthopaedic Trauma

Most often, traumatic orthopaedic injuries are caused by:

  • Falling
  • Being involved in a car or motorcycle accident
  • Physical violence
  • Being injured while playing a sport (basketball and football have the highest number of orthopaedic injuries)
  • Natural disasters


Factors That Increase the Risk of Orthopaedic Injury

Some people are more likely to suffer traumatic injuries than others. An older adult with osteoporosis, a condition that reduces bone density, is more likely to break a bone when they fall compared with a healthy young adult.

Did you know? A broken bone caused by a disease, such as osteoporosis, cancer, or osteogenesis imperfecta, is called a pathologic fracture.

When to See an Orthopaedic Trauma Specialist

Sometimes, orthopaedic trauma is immediately obvious. Life-threatening injuries, such as protruding bones, require an immediate trip to the emergency room where an orthopaedic surgeon will get to work right away.

Other times, orthopaedic trauma is not life-threatening, but still requires specialized care. Some of the most common injuries that are most effectively treated by an orthopaedic trauma specialist are:

  • Closed fractures (Broken bone that doesn’t break the skin)
  • Open fractures (Broken bone that does break the skin)
  • Stress fractures (Small, hairline crack in the bone caused by overuse)
  • Dislocation (A joint forced out of position)
  • Overuse injuries

While your primary care doctor or local urgent care clinic may be able to treat some of these injuries, it’s a good idea to see an expert. Orthopaedic surgeons have advanced knowledge of the musculoskeletal system – some specialize even further, focusing on only one area of the body, such as the knees, hands, or feet.

Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about going to the wrong doctor – your primary or urgent care doctor will refer you to an orthopaedic specialist if need be.

Treatment: What Does an Orthopaedic Trauma Surgeon Do?

Orthopaedic trauma surgeons work in both hospitals and private practices to diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate injuries of the musculoskeletal system.

In the ER, a general trauma surgeon is primarily responsible for resuscitating and stabilizing a patient with life-threatening injuries. An orthopaedic trauma surgeon will be on standby or on call to manage trauma to the bones, joints, and soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, and tendons).

Despite having “surgeon” in their title, orthopaedic surgeons will only use surgical treatments if necessary. Non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy, rest, and supportive braces/casts, may also be effective for certain traumatic injuries.

Preventing Traumatic Orthopaedic Injuries

Accidents happen, but there are some simple things everyone can do to reduce their traumatic injury risk.

  • Always wear a seatbelt when driving
  • Always wear a helmet when biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, etc.
  • Wear the appropriate safety gear when playing contact sports
  • Stretch and do a warm-up exercise before working out or playing a sport to prevent muscle injury

Those at a higher risk of injury, either due to a condition that weakens the bones or causes a loss of balance, may need to take additional precautions.

  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes with good traction to avoid tripping or slipping
  • Use night lights to prevent tripping over objects in the dark
  • Add small ramps to entryways and areas with raised flooring

Talk to your doctor about more ways to adjust your lifestyle to avoid injury or how to make your home safer for a loved one.

Find an Orthopaedic Specialist Near You

Orthopaedic injuries can happen to anyone, and they often happen when you least expect it.

Luckily, Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health’s Department of Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine, and Spine is fully equipped to treat a variety of complex injuries. Our team of board-certified orthopaedic surgeons follow patients through all stages of recovery to ensure they receive the care they need to get back to the activities they love.

Specializing in both general orthopaedic surgery and the treatment of traumatic orthopaedic injuries, Dr. Seth Cooper cares for patients of all ages in Brandon, Wesley Chapel, and Zephyrhills, Florida. Using the latest medical technology and minimally invasive techniques, he tailors his treatment approach to each patient’s unique needs.

To make an appointment with Dr. Cooper, fill out a quick online appointment request form or give us a call at (813) 979-0440.

Disclaimer: This blog is not a substitute for medical advice from a licensed physician. If you believe you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.


Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine & Spine

About this author.


Seth Cooper, MD, FAAOS

Orthopaedics, Trauma, Hip & Knee Replacement

  • Accepting new patients

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