This branch of medicine is dedicated to studying the connective tissues, joints, muscles, bones and tendons and treating injury to and diseases of these parts. (Connective tissues include joint cartilage and fascia, the thin, fibrous material that sheaths muscles and soft organs.) Problems diagnosed and treated by rheumatologists include arthritis, bursitis, spinal conditions, repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, gout, lupus, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, muscle strains, athletic injuries, and collagen diseases of the joints. The 100-plus rheumatic diseases may cause pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. Some rheumatic diseases can also affect other parts of the body such as the internal organs.
Of the 100-plus rheumatic diseases, some of the more common conditions include those described below. For these and other conditions, rheumatologists often work together with other specialists such as physical therapists and orthopedic surgeons.
Arthritis is a general term used to describe the disease that affects the body's joints and their connecting tissues; tendons, ligaments and cartilage. In addition to the more common forms of arthritis described below, other forms include infectious arthritis, reactive arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is a degenerative joint disease characterized by frayed, worn and decayed joint cartilage. In extreme cases, the cartilage may be completed gone, leaving a bone-on-bone joint and perhaps bone spurs. In addition to pain and loss of function, disability can occur in osteoarthritis of the spine, knees and hips. Treatment normally includes pain medications and cartilage injections for extreme cases.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease of the joint lining (usually affecting the hands and feet) that causes similar pain and loss of function as osteoarthritis. The ailment is managed with medications to ease pain and reduce inflammation.
Gout is a type of arthritis in which deposits of needle-like crystals of uric acid form in the tendons, ligaments, and cartilage of the joints. Uric acid is usually eliminated in the urine, but gout patients don't eliminate the acid properly, resulting in inflammation, swelling and pain in affected parts. Diet and alcohol sometimes play a role in the onset of the disease, in which case the disease is easily treatable.
Bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs positioned inside the joints. The condition may result from arthritis in the joint or injury or infection of the bursae. Treating these causes can lessen or cure bursitis.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder of the muscles and tendons, particularly those of the neck, spine, shoulders and hips. Symptoms include widespread pain, fatigue and loss of sleep. Medications provide some relief.
Lupus is a chronic, inflammatory, multi-system disorder of the immune system in which the immune system harms the body's own healthy cells and tissues. Lupus causes the body to develop antibodies that attack normal tissue, sometimes severely, and often with periods of flare-ups followed by periods of remission. With symptoms such as fever, facial rash, anemia, hair loss and sensitivity to light, lupus can inflame and damage the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain. While there is no cure for lupus, the disease can be managed with physical and emotional rest, protection from direct sunlight, a healthful diet, prompt treatment of infections and avoidance of allergens or other aggravating factors.
Scleroderma is a general term for several diseases that affect the skin, blood vessels, joints and sometimes the lungs, kidneys and other internal organs. The disease is characterized by excessive collagen resulting in hardening of the affected parts.
Tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendons and is normally caused by overuse, injury, or related rheumatic conditions. Rest normally cures physically caused cases.
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