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Medical Interpreting: The Skeletal System

In the last two installments of our Medical Interpreting series, we discussed the respiratory system and muscular system. Now, we’re going to begin giving brief overviews of the bodily systems. As you advance in your career, you’ll move from general appointments to specialist appointments.

Having foundational knowledge about the bodily systems improves both your medical vocabulary and your knowledge of how the body works. The human body is a puzzle of interlocking pieces, each with their own function that complements the others.

The next modules we are going to talking about correspond to each bodily system.

  • Respiratory System
  • Muscular System
  • Skeletal System
  • Circulatory System
  • Gastrointestinal System
  • Integumentary System
  • Nervous System
  • Inmune System
  • Most Common Scans

In this blog, we’ll discuss the Skeletal System.

Medical Interpreting: The Skeletal System

The Skeletal System: An Overview

The skeletal system is the internal framework of the human body, comprised of around 300 bones at birth. This number decreases to about 206 bones by adulthood as some fuse together as we grow. Babies have more bones than adults as their skeletons haven’t fully developed. This means that they’re naturally more flexible and able to curl inside the womb. The extra cartilage instead of bone also makes it easier for mother and child during the birthing process.

Cartilage turns to bone during a process called “Ossification.” Capillaries (tiny blood vessels) deliver oxygen-rich blood to osteoblasts, the cells that form bones. The osteoblasts create bone to cover the cartilage and eventually replace it, leaving fused bones.

The skeleton serves six major functions through our entire lives: Support, Movement, Protection, Blood cell Production, Storage, and Endocrine Regulation. Human skeletons are divided into two bone categories: the axial skeleton and the appendicular skeleton.

Skeleton Crew: Bone Specialists

As an interpreter, you’ll most typically encounter the three most common bone specialists: Orthopedists, Osteopaths, and Chiropractors.

  • Orthopedics is a surgical specialty and orthopedists work with bones, joints, tendons, muscles, and ligaments. They provide both surgical and non-surgical repairs and treatments for pain and injuries. Orthopedic surgeons hold an MD (medical doctorate).
  • Osteopathy is a system of healthcare that takes a more “whole body” approach to healing. It’s a non-surgical approach that focuses on stretching and massage to increase mobility and relieve tension. Osteopaths study primary care medicine and often work as family physicians. Osteopaths can specialize in any area and frequently categorize themselves as internal medicine practitioners. Osteopaths hold a DO (doctor of osteopathy degree).
  • Chiropractors focus on the relationship between the nerves, muscles, and skeleton. Chiropractic treatment tends to be more spine and joint focused than osteopathy. It’s often comprised of small spinal adjustments to better align bones and relieve joint pain and pressure. Chiropractors hold a DC (Doctor of Chiropractic degree).

Common Skeletal Maladies and Injuries

As an interpreter, you’ll be more commonly working with patients experiencing an injury or other dysfunction. Here are some of the most common skeletal maladies and injuries you might encounter while on the job:

  • Fractures: Fractures include a wide variety of subsets covered under two broad categories: simple and compound. A simple fracture is when the bone cracks but doesn’t split in two. A compound fracture is when the bone splits entirely into separate pieces. Fractures are treated with splints, casts, or less commonly, traction. If severe enough, surgical intervention might be necessary.
  • Dislocation: This is the most common injury for athletes. Dislocation occurs when the bone’s joint couldn’t handle the force upon it, causing the bones to move out of position.
  • Osteoarthritis: Arthritis is a broad term used to describe joint pain and dysfunction. Osteoarthritis results from the breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone.
  • Bone Spur: Also known as Exotosis, a bone spur occurs when new bone forms on the surface of an existing bone. This can cause pain ranging from mild to severe. They typically form on the joints and grow upwards.
  • Multiple Myeloma: MM, or Plasma Cell Myeloma, is a type of cancer that frequently presents as bone pain and lesions. It’s considered treatable with chemotherapy, steroids, targeted therapy, and stem cell transplants. Bone lesions may be treated with radiation therapy.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a condition where bone loss and weakening lead to a greater risk of bone fractures. Osteoporosis is the most common reason for broken bones among the elderly. The most common osteoporotic fracture easily visible in the elderly is a vertebral collapse. This is also known as a compression fracture. It causes a curved back and posture as well as chronic pain with a reduction in mobility.
  • Osteomyelitis: Osteomyelitis is a bone infection, usually bacterial but sometimes fungal. It presents as bone pain, redness, fever, and weakness. It’s most commonly found in the long bones of the arms and legs in children. In adults, it presents or in the spine, hips, and feet.
  • Fibrous Dysplasia: in cases of Fibrous Dysplasia, normal bone and marrow are replaced with fibrous tissue. This new bone is weak and prone to expansion, causing deformity and pain. Treatment is mostly palliative, focused on pain and fracture management.

Medical Terminology for Interpreters: an eLearning course by Global Arena

Want to learn more about medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology? Would you prefer to be able to take a course at your own pace? Global Arena’s eLearning course, Medical Terminology for Interpreters, gives foundational medical knowledge for all interpreting skill levels. It provides a basic overview of common providers, appointments, scans, procedures, and the bodily systems.

The course is timed for three hours and includes a mix of interactive, informative, and review slides. Upon successful completion of all reviews, you’ll receive a Certificate of Course Completion worth three CEUs. The course meets CCHI and NBCMI standards for interpreter training and counts towards your credit hours for exam pre-requisites.

You’ll also receive our Medical Terminology glossary, complete with spaces to add vocabulary in your target language. The course is updated regularly, and registration includes lifetime access to all new information and materials. Click the link to learn more and sign up today!

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