Orthopedic vs. Orthopaedic – What is the Difference?

The field of medicine is multifaceted, and its subject matter is often so complex as to defy easy understanding. The many branches of medicine also have elaborate-sounding names and adjectives, like geriatric oncology, pediatrics, and orthopedics.

As you can see, these words are long, jargon-y, and difficult to spell. It is no wonder that some writers aren’t sure of the difference between orthopedics and orthopaedics, or what these words even mean in the first place.

Once you look them up in a dictionary and find out what they mean, should you use orthopedic or orthopaedic? The answer depends on your audience.

What is the Difference Between Orthopedic and Orthopaedic?

In this article, I will compare orthopedic vs. orthopaedic. I will use each of these spellings in an example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a memory tool that will help you choose between these difficult and confusing words.

When to Use Orthopedic

OrthopedicWhat does orthopedic mean? Orthopedic is the adjective form of orthopedics. Orthopedics is a noun that refers to a branch of medicine dealing with the musculoskeletal system.

Typically, the physician that practices in this field is an orthopedic surgeon.

Here are a few examples,

  • When Edward injured his back, he suddenly became very interested in orthopedics.
  • Deann visited an orthopedic surgeon to repair the damage to her joints.
  • Marc was thankful that his health insurance plan covered visits to the orthopedic surgeon.
  • When Boothman arrived at the University of Michigan in 2001 — after two decades defending doctors, including an orthopedic surgeon who had been sued 21 times — he decided to try a similar approach. –The Washington Post

Orthopedics is the standard spelling of the word in American English.

When to Use Orthopaedic

Define orthopaedic and define orthopedicWhat does orthopaedic mean? Orthopaedic is a different version of the same word. It has all the same meanings and applies to all the same contexts, except it is standard in British English.

For example,

  • Closer inspection strongly suggests that the shoe might have orthopaedic uses, although the fashion police are still investigating the matter. –The Guardian

The below graph charts the use of orthopaedic vs. orthopedic in British English books since 1800.

orthopaedics vs orthopedics

As you can see, orthopaedic has long been the preferred spelling in British English. However, the American version seems to be gaining ground in recent years, but orthopaedic is still the preferred spelling in American spelling.

Here is a similar graph that only pulls from American English books,

orthopedic versus orthopaedic

It is important to note that these charts are not exhaustive in their scope, since they only draw data from published books written in English since 1800. They don’t pull from magazines or other print sources.

In this specific instance, we don’t much care about spoken English, since the difference between these words comes down to spelling. Still, the caveat is worth noting.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Should you use orthopaedic or orthopedic? Making the choice is easy.

  • For British English audiences, choose
  • For American English audiences, choose orthopedic.

The extra A in orthopaedics is your clue as to its usage: that letter is also in Anglican, an adjective describing a type of church typically found in England.


Is it orthopedic or orthpaedic? Orthopedic and orthopaedic and each describe a branch of surgery dealing with repairs to the musculoskeletal system.

  • Orthopaedic is the standard British English spelling.
  • Orthopedic is standard in American English spelling.

Since orthopaedics is British and shares an A with Anglican, a type of British church, you will always find it easy to remember when to use this version of the word.

In summary,

  • Orthopedics is an American spelling.
  • Orthopaedics is an British spelling.