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Enhancing Your Orthopedic Health Literacy


With October serving as the time of year when we place an increased focus on breast cancer awareness, it may surprise you to learn that this is also the month in which the national healthcare community endeavors to emphasize enhanced health literacy among the public. Simply put, health literacy means that health professionals and patients can discuss and exchange information about health conditions that are easy to understand and apply to daily living.

As physicians and health care providers, our training is (necessarily) exacting and highly technical. After all, the body is a complex array of bones, ligaments, muscle tissues, organ systems, and so much more. Doctors and nurses must painstakingly study and apply that learning to our patients so that we can help heal the health conditions that affect them. Sometimes though, our technical knowledge can come at the expense of the patient's adequate understanding of what's going on with them in terms they can understand.

So this month, I'd like to focus on some of the more common but technical terms or acronyms used in knee orthopedics while endeavoring to help my readers from the public more easily understand what they mean.

ACL – This acronym stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament – a mouthful, I know. Your ACL is a thick band of tissue that passes through your knee and attaches to the tibia – the innermost of two long bones in the lower leg.

Flexion Deformity – This medical phenomenon occurs when a person can't fully extend or straighten their knee.

Joint – The junction where two bones meet. The knee is the largest joint in the human body.

Meniscus (plural menisci) – These are crescent moon-shaped discs of connective tissue in the knees that behave like shock absorbers in a car. Menisci help to protect the lower leg from the weight of the body.

ROM – This acronym stands for Range of Motion. ROM is the distance a limb of the body can move along a linear or angular plane. ROM is an essential measure of movement, especially after an arm or leg injury. It helps doctors know what needs to be done for a patient to restore a normal range of motion.

Synovium – This is a thin membrane found inside the joints of the human body. The synovium secretes something called synovial fluid, which helps lubricate joints so that they move smoothly when we perform activities of daily living, such as walking.

Tibia – A fancy word of Latin origin, meaning shin bone. The tibia is the larger of two bones on the lower legs inside. The fibula is the smaller of the two bones and is located on the outer side of the lower leg.

The above list of terms and acronyms barely scratches the surface of an orthopedic glossary of definitions. But placing these terms in an easy-to-understand language is a crucial endeavor, and I encourage all clinicians to practice it. Our patients must understand what we are saying to them if we want them to follow our advice. And patients? Don’t be afraid to speak up when a doctor or medical provider says something you don't understand. We are here to help you, and we want to ensure you have a solid grasp of what we're saying. Communication is vital and takes mutual honesty and understanding – your health depends on it!


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