Orthopedic Surgery, Bone Health and Physical Therapy

Orthopedic Surgeon Alan Greenwald explores the training, skill, discipline and technology it takes to preserve health through procedures – and the important steps that come after.

After 40 years of being an orthopedic surgeon, Alan Greenwald MD has yet to grow old in the profession. Performing surgery has changed over time and with technological evolution, but Dr. Greenwald’s purpose has remained the same: to help people move.

“It’s a medical specialty where you can literally fix people, get them up and get them walking. You can take people out of a wheelchair and let them walk again. Or fix a broken bone and help it mend. It’s a very gratifying speciality that provides us with really rapid results and improvements.”

In this episode of Powering Health and Wellness with RPM Rehab, Dr. Greenwald takes us through the intricacies of orthopedic surgery, the importance of the Physical Therapy that follows and the ways he believes the industry can grow.

Transformative technology

One of the most engaging parts of orthopedic surgery is the almost incomprehensible technology that’s advanced along with the practice. 

“We can take materials that have been synthesized and make the body reprogram itself in a fashion to make bone where there is no bone. Or, heal tissues where it’s not possible normally to heal tissue,” said Greenwald. “So we are able to jumpstart the biology.”

These developments in technology have allowed for professionals like Dr. Greenwald to perform less-invasive and more efficient surgeries on those in need. With the technological gains and improvements, the industry has been able to continue to grow and change.

“It has revolutionized fixing people from making big incisions and big cuts to small incisions, and working through little tiny tubes with fiberoptic scopes and using technologies that I never dreamed of as a resident,” Dr. Greenwald shared.

Now, surgeries – like shoulder operations – are shorter, less complicated and offer a quicker recovery time for patients. 

And, the technology doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Even after decades in the profession, Dr. Greenwald is always continuing to learn new things and utilize state-of-the-art innovations.

“It’s been a nice and interesting ride, and it keeps changing. I don’t think it’s going to stop during the time I’m practicing.”

The need for post-procedure therapy

Even with the amazing technology available today, it takes more than just surgery to regain movement and strength after an injury. After a procedure, patients still may not feel equipped to continue their lifestyle and fully resume their usual activity level.

“It’s possible to recreate the anatomy that was damaged by an injury or an accident,” said Dr. Greenwald. “However, it takes more than just putting these tissues back in place to get the patient back to a functional lifestyle.”

That’s where therapy comes into play. Orthopedic surgeons rely on Physical Therapists to work patients through their pain and fears and to restore them to their pre-surgical, or pre-injury, functional levels.

“It takes an awful lot of effort to get from the operating room to, for example, throwing a ball,” said Dr. Greenwald. “It requires a very concerted and time-driven mechanism that is orderly.”

This process takes not only time, but a willingness to encourage patients and inspire confidence in their progress. Dr. Greenwald says the best way to restore physical health is to establish this trust then work toward movement, strength and coordination.

The impressive technologies found in the operating room aren’t enough. It takes collaboration between surgeon and Physical Therapist for complete patient healing.

“Patients aren’t able to generally do this on their own. Most people don’t have the skill or the sense of security or the confidence to do it by themselves.They often require a lot of help.”

Preserving bone health

Twenty years ago, the American Academy of Orthopedic Association mandated orthopedic providers take on the role of monitoring bone health.

But, Dr. Greenwald says that this personal health asset is currently being ignored. In fact, 90% of patients with fragility fractures go unacknowledged.

“It’s a silent disease. And I’ve been working hard in the last years to encourage physicians – especially orthopedic surgeons – to acknowledge that these patients that they’re seeing and treating need additional help.”

In addition, there are steps patients can do to avoid bone health issues in the future. By taking calcium supplements, stopping smoking and limiting alcohol consumption, you can take a step to have stronger bones later in life.

“It’s often very preventable. So the recognition of that kind of disease in the process is paramount for bone doctors.”

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