Pediatric vs. Adult Orthopedic Surgeon: What’s the Difference?

Disclosure:: This post is sponsored by Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center and authored by Dr. Ryan P Farmer.

Pediatric vs. Adult Orthopedic Surgeon: What’s the Difference?

Your little soccer star is charging down the field toward the goal and collides with another player. When the dust settles, you realize your child isn’t getting up. You rush out onto the field and see that your child’s leg doesn’t look normal. Now what?

Your next step as a parent is important. Friends and family may tell you there’s really no difference between a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, or pedipod, and an adult orthopedic surgeon. After all, bones are bones, right? Well, no. That’s not quite correct.

The bottom line, and I cannot stress this enough: Children are not little adults, especially when it comes to the musculoskeletal system.

A child’s body is still growing. It reacts differently to injuries and treatment. And, a treatment that may be appropriate for an adult may not be the best option for your precious little one. Pedipods are specifically trained to understand the difference and recommend a treatment plan that will allow your child to get back to doing what they love to do most while ensuring that the chances of long-term problems are minimized.

Children’s bones are different than adult bones. For instance, an infant’s skeleton has significantly more cartilage than an adult’s skeleton. That’s one of the reasons ultrasounds are often used to examine an infant’s musculoskeletal system instead of an x-ray. The cartilage becomes calcified bone over time, but it doesn’t happen overnight. In the meantime, children’s bones are more flexible than an adult’s, causing their bones to break or fracture differently than adult bones.

You may have heard of growth plates. These are, as the name suggests, the areas where bone growth occurs and are comprised mainly of specialized cartilage structures. If these structures become damaged, long-term deformity may occur. Because of this, fractures near or into growth plates require specific treatment and monitoring to, hopefully, avoid and, if necessary, treat issues later in life. But, breaks near growth plates are not always bad news. Because of the high rate of growth of certain growth plates, fractures that appear like they need a surgery can often be treated with casting and will heal without long-term problems.

Another difference: Children’s bones heal quicker than adult bones. So, it’s important that a pedipod assess a fracture as soon as possible. If the bone doesn’t heal correctly, surgery may be required to get things back on track.

The differences don’t end at bones.

The specialized training and focus of a pediatric orthopedic surgeon is pivotal in the treatment of club feet, limb length differences, knock knee or bowed legs, gait abnormalities associated with cerebral palsy or other neuromuscular disorders and spinal deformities. Think of it this way: Pediatric orthopedic surgeons focus on the bones and joints of the neck, the spine and into the arms, hands, legs and feet.

It’s also a communication thing.

Not all children can express the pain or discomfort they feel. Pediatric orthopedic surgeons receive training on how to assist children who are not able to speak or communicate well because of age or a developmental delay.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeons complete a 5-year residency in general orthopedic surgery with an additional year of training specifically focused on the diagnosis, treatment and management of musculoskeletal problems in children at all stages of development.

Look, our kids are our world. Everything we do in some fashion revolves around their unique needs, and we always want to do our level best to meet those needs. It’s no different with their healthcare. Taking them to caring physicians specifically trained to treat their injuries is more often than not in their best interest and will benefit them longer than their injuries are present.

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About Dr. Ryan P Farmer

– Dr. Ryan P Farmer is a fellowship-trained pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Our Lady of Lourdes Women’s & Children’s Hospital. Discover more at


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