Orthopaedic vs. Orthopedic: What’s the Difference?

The words “orthopaedic” and “orthopedic” both describe the same medical specialty. “Orthopedic” is the Americanized version of the traditional British spelling. Both words are pronounced the same way. Cambridge Dictionary explains that the pronunciations of of the words in British (ˌɔː.θəˈpiː.dɪk) and American (ˌɔːr.θəˈpiː.dɪk) English are very similar, with Americans putting slightly more emphasis on the “R” sound. In the United States, although the -pedic spelling is preferred, many health care institutions and organizations still use the –paedic variant. 

Some examples of American organizations that use the -paedic spelling include:

 

Both spellings are correct. To avoid confusion, we recommend sticking to one spelling within a document unless using the word as part of a proper noun. 

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Etymology

Orthopedic derives from the Greek roots ortho-, meaning “straight, correct,” and pedo-, meaning “child”. The word was invented by French physician Nicolas Andry de Bois-Regard (sometimes spelled Nicholas Andry), who has been called “the father of parasitology.” His book, titled Orthopaedia or the art of correcting and preventing deformities in children, was first published in English in 1743. 

In the preface, he explained how he coined the term by combining two Greek words. Remi Kohler, in an article for The Journal of Children’s Orthopaedics, writes about the creation of the term, saying, “This invention followed other less successful ones (callipédie and pédotrophie).” The word caught on after Diderot included it in his Encyclopaedia, which helped establish its usage. Later, Jean André Venel called his clinic in Switzerland an “orthopaedic Institute,” further popularizing the term. 

When Andry published the Orthopaedia at the age of 82, he provided a different definition for orthopaedics than the one we use today. As Kohler explains, “…This word concerned children, with the connotation of prevention and seeking a beautiful human form.” In the 1840’s, with the increase in surgical procedures, the meaning of the word expanded to include “bone and joint surgery” for patients of any age. Modern orthopedics concerns any issues or conditions that arise within the musculoskeletal system.

Definitions

Merriam-Webster defines the word “orthopedic” as an adjective, meaning:

  • of, relating to, or employed in orthopedics
  • marked by or affected with a skeletal deformity, disorder, or injury

Orthopedics is defined as, “A branch of medicine concerned with the correction or prevention of deformities, disorders, or injuries of the skeleton and associated structures (such as tendons and ligaments).”

Merriam-Webster describes “orthopaedic” as the less common variant. 

Specialties

Orthopedists offer different types of treatments, ranging from orthopedic surgery to physical therapy. At Johns Hopkins, orthopaedic subspecialties include:

  • Foot and ankle surgery – treating muscle, bone, ligament and tendon conditions affecting the foot and ankle
  • General orthopaedics – treating a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions ranging from sprains, strains and broken bones to problems that require complex revision surgeries
  • Hand surgery – treating hand, wrist, forearm and elbow conditions
  • Hip and knee surgery – treating a variety of hip and knee conditions with the focus on preserving joint health
  • Shoulder and elbow surgery – treating common and complex shoulder and elbow conditions
  • Trauma surgery – treating orthopaedic emergencies
  • Orthopaedic oncology – treating children and adults diagnosed with tumors and tumor-like conditions of the bone and soft tissue, including bone metastases, sarcomas, benign and cancerous tumors of the bone or soft tissue and pathologic fractures
  • Spine surgery – treating a wide range of back and neck conditions, including spinal arthritis, disc degeneration, scoliosis, spinal deformities and tumors
  • Bone health – treating osteopenia and osteoporosis
  • Pediatric orthopaedic surgery – treating a variety of bone, joint, tendon and ligament conditions affecting children of all ages 
  • Sports medicine – treating sports injuries in professional and recreational athletes of all ages and skill levels
  • Osseointegration – a surgical procedure that aims to offer better quality of life and improved function and mobility to people who have had an amputation

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons  (AAOS) explains, “Orthopaedic surgeons are medical doctors who have completed a total of approximately 14 years of formal education.” Some orthopedic surgeons are generalists, while others specialize in particular areas of the human body. 

Historically, medical intervention for musculoskeletal problems, such as polio and scoliosis, called for treatment plans involving heavy, permanent braces. With advances in technology, treatment options have evolved to include implants, arthroscopic surgery, joint replacements, and bone grafts, as well as nonsurgical options. 

Orthopaedics in Academia

Below, we’ve listed the top ten medical schools for clinical medicine, according to the U.S. News & World Report. All of these institutions use the –paedic spelling to refer to the nonsurgical and surgical treatment of musculoskeletal issues. Even though Merriam-Webster claims that “orthopaedic” is the less common variant, it’s still commonly used in the United States and abroad. 

Harvard University | Orthopaedic Surgery

Johns Hopkins University | Orthopaedic Surgery 

Stanford University | Orthopaedic Surgery

University of California San Francisco | Orthopaedic Surgery

University of Toronto | Orthopaedic Surgery

University of Washington | Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine

University of Pennsylvania | Orthopaedics

University of Oxford | Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences

Duke University | Orthopaedic Surgery

University of California Los Angeles  | Orthopaedic Surgery

Sources: 

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orthopaedic
  2. https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=orthopedic
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21804898/
  4. https://online.boneandjoint.org.uk/doi/full/10.1007/s11832-010-0255-9
  5. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/orthopaedic-surgery/specialty-areas/
  6. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/clinical-medicine
  7. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/orthopaedic