As if learning about Perthes disease isn’t difficult enough, have you ever noticed some say Orthopedics and some say Orthopaedics? Or have you ever been emailing a friend or family member your story and your spell check goes absolutely nuts but you double, triple check and yes: it’s orthopaedics on the surgeon’s card! What gives?
First and foremost, both are correct. The traditional spelling of orthopaedics / orthopaedist is still used by academic institutions and many professional organizations such as the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Across the pond, this is the accepted spelling in Britain. In the United States orthopedics / orthopedist is accepted as a modern variant.
If both are correct then why the extra letter? Well, here’s a little fun fact and a lesson in history! The term orthopaedics can be broken down to ortho and paedics. Ortho is derived from Greek “orthos,” or straight. Paedics comes from the Greek word for child, “paideon.” The term Orthopaedics can be traced back to 1741 and the word itself is attributed to the French physician Nicholas Andry who published Orthopaedia: or the Art of Correcting and Preventing Deformities in Children, translated.
The name may be “new” but the practice is not. Through artifacts and art, a fragmented history alludes to the practice of orthopaedics and orthopaedic surgery dating back to Egyptian society in 3000 B.C. as well as the ancient Greeks around 300 B.C. or earlier. As time marched on, orthopaedics involved healing and maintaining battlefield injuries but never strayed from the mission of correcting deformities in children. Many diseases we think little of today were prominent just one hundred years ago and had a significant impact on the skeletal system of children such as Polio or Tuberculosis. Furthermore, orthopaedists treated many conditions that we know of today such as scoliosis and congenital malformations.
Today the practice of orthopaedics incorporates significant technological advances from cellular modulation to advanced surgical techniques and robotic prosthesis. Orthopaedists treat adults and children alike. Still, orthopaedics as the original name suggests, is “dedicated to correcting and preventing deformities in children.”
Beasley AW. The origins of orthopaedics. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 1982;75(8):648-655.
Ponseti IV. History of Orthopaedic Surgery. The Iowa Orthopaedic Journal. 1991;11:59-64.