Orthopaedics is the medical specialty that focuses on injuries and diseases of the human body's musculoskeletal system. This complex system includes your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves and allows you to move, work, and be active.

The MedTech industry develops products that reduce the burden of musculoskeletal diseases on individuals, families and the wider economy. These innovations improve quality of life and add enormous value to European society.

Orthopaedic disorders are the single largest source of pain and disability globally. The World Health Organisation says that such diseases are responsible for half the chronic conditions affecting people over 50 in the developing world.

In fact, orthopaedic conditions are the major cause of years lived with disability in all continents and economies, and are the most common medical causes of long-term absence from work.

Orthopaedic care is also essential to the treatment of sports and spinal injuries, as well as fractures and breaks sustained through trauma. MedTech has solutions to help get people back on their feet, living life to the full.

'Musculoskeletal conditions are a major burden on individuals, health systems, and social care systems, with indirect costs being predominant.' 

            -  World Health Organisation 

Bones & joints

The unavoidable process of ageing leads to wear and tear on weight-bearing joints such as hips and knees. In other words, the joints in question are simply worn out.

These conditions place a considerable strain on sufferers, their carers and on healthcare systems generally. They also keep large numbers of people from being fully active members of society. Given the demographic challenge of an ageing population, Europe will be particularly impacted by these conditions in the coming years.

There are a number of conditions which cause particular problems. Nearly 25% of people in Europe have some form of rheumatism or arthritis, according to the WHO; they are the commonest chronic illnesses in Europe.

Osteoporosis is another problem. This is a disease whereby the bone becomes porous and brittle, losing much of its structural strength and leading to a high risk of hip, wrist and other fractures.

It is a progressive disease, with the elderly – especially women – and those with a family history of the disease being particularly likely to be sufferers. Again, Europe’s ageing population makes this disease a growing concern. Estimates suggest that 40% of all women over the age of 50 will suffer an osteoporotic fracture.

Trauma and spinal injuries

Injuries sustained through trauma – such as road traffic accidents – can result in serious damage to the musculoskeletal system. Spinal cord injuries, shattered bones and dislocated joints require skilled intervention and rehabilitation to restore mobility.

Trauma injuries affect people of all ages and can have a profound impact on quality of life, limiting the ability to work, study and live and active life1.

Sport injuries

Regular physical activity is essential to good health. However, along with the benefits and pleasure of taking exercise comes the risk of sports-related injuries. From torn tendons and sprained wrists to fractured hips and broken ankles, the impact of sports injuries can range from a few weeks on the side-lines to long-term mobility issues.

Prompt and accurate diagnosis of injury followed by appropriate treatment and care can minimise the impact of sports injuries and accelerate recovery.2

How the MedTech industry helps

Caring for musculoskeletal conditions begins with diagnosis. X-rays and CT scans can identify fractures, breaks and damage to ligaments and tendons, helping healthcare professionals to design a suitable treatment plan for their patient.

For some musculoskeletal conditions, joint replacement is the ultimate solution. Joint replacement is an area of major activity in medical technology, as manufacturers strive to improve techniques and technology to speed and improve recovery, increase device life and reduce overall care costs.

Damaged hips, knees, hands, shoulders, feet, ankles and other bones and joints can now be replaced. These devices, implanted by skilled surgeons and supported by post-operative rehabilitation, can restore lost mobility.

Delaying joint replacement can come at a cost. Early access to joint replacement significantly improves patients' quality of life without impacting on healthcare resources.

Trauma and sports injuries can require the implantation of metal plates to support the limbs. External braces can also be used to provide temporary support during the recovery period.

Spinal injuries are particularly complex and require innovative interventions to reduce pain and provide stability. Procedures such as kyphoplasty surgery, where a small balloon is used to elevate a fractured vertebrae before a cement-like material is inserted to stabilise the bone, have radically improved outcomes for people with serious back injuries.

Advances in medical technology and surgical expertise have considerably improved the prognosis for a range of sports injuries. For example, a ruptured cruciate ligament could be a career-ending injury in the late 20th century but many professional athletes can return to activity a year after surgery.

Related resources:

  1. Source – WHO- “Every year, around the world, between 250 000 and 500 000 people suffer a spinal cord injury.”
  2. Source: Injuries in the EU Statistics Summary (2005 – 2007) – “For a conservative estimate, about 6 in 1 000 unintentional fatal injuries can be related to broad categories of sports, like rock climbing, boating sports, or horse related sports.”