With so much overlap between medical disciplines and specializations, it is often difficult for an individual to discern which type of doctor to see for their problem.
This is especially true for orthopedics and rheumatology, as both of these types of physicians treat joint pain.
Orthopedists are surgeons who address bone and joint diseases and injuries, such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, and body trauma. Rheumatologists are internal medicine physicians who focus on autoimmune conditions and the non-surgical treatment of such diseases, such as arthritis, where medications and/or physical therapy can provide the proper treatment.
It is important to understand the areas these two specialties cover in order to make an informed decision.
Deciding Between an Orthopedist and a Rheumatologist
First, visit your primary care physician (PCP) for a physical exam and to discuss your symptoms. They may order X-rays, blood tests, and other screenings for abnormalities and to make an initial assessment. They may prescribe pain-relieving medications at this stage.
Your PCP’s initial therapies may work, and so you may not need to go any further. Or, your PCP may decide to give you a referral to an orthopedist or a rheumatologist, depending on your needs.
Below are thorough explanations of each type of specialist.
What Does a Rheumatologist Do?
Rheumatology studies the causes, impact, and treatments of inflammatory autoimmune disorders on the human body. In an autoimmune disorder, a patient’s own immune system malfunctions and turns its attack on his own healthy body tissue, rather than on invading or external disease agents.
Rheumatologists can be internists or pediatricians who have additional training and qualifications. They have the experience to diagnose and treat many of the over 100 systemic forms of adult, juvenile, and temporal arthritis. They treat mechanical joint, bone, muscle, and soft and connective tissue diseases.
Often referred to as “arthritis doctors,” rheumatologists treat many other diseases too.
Disabling, sometimes fatal diseases that are researched and treated by rheumatologists are:
- Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS)
- Lupus (SLE)
- Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)
- Sjogren’s syndrome
Your PCP might refer you to a rheumatologist if you experience:
- Pain in multiple joints
- Joint pain without injury
- Joint or musculoskeletal pain accompanied by chest pain, fatigue, fever, rash, or stiffness (specially on waking)
- Joint pain after a tick bite
- Joint pain along with back pain
- Joint pain with psoriasis
- Muscular pain alone or with other symptoms
- Recent headaches or muscle aches
- Back pain alone or with leg pain
- Ongoing fever, sweats, or weight loss that can’t be explained
- Abnormal blood tests indicating rheumatic disease
What Does an Orthopedist Do?
Orthopedists handle the disorders, injuries, prevention, treatment, and repair of the skeletal system and its related joints, ligaments, and muscles.
Orthopedists and orthopedic surgeons are specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of bone and joint disease. They use an array of testing modalities to aid in diagnosis and treatment.
Your PCP might refer you to an orthopedist if you experience:
- Joint or musculoskeletal pain due to an injury
- Progressive pain in the hip or knee that is aggravated when carrying weight
- Severe and disabling joint pain
- Moderate or advanced arthritis in the knee or hip
- Failure of other treatments for joint pain
- Need for a joint replacement
An orthopedic physician treats conditions such as:
- Nerve pain
- Joints that must be surgically repaired
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Herniated disc
- Pinched Nerve
Who Can Help With My Joint Pain or Arthritis?
Your PCP will guide you in the right direction regarding which specialist you need to see in further treating your health concerns. Many health insurance plans require that a PCP first refer the patient to a consulting specialist before a visit to this specialist is covered by your medical plan.
If you suffer pain and disability due to arthritis, body trauma, injury, or an accident (especially to bones), an orthopedist can help. The staff at Orthopaedic Associates utilizes both cutting-edge therapies and traditional treatments to address a variety of orthopedic conditions.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, call (440) 892-1440 or fill out our easy-to-use online appointment request form. We look forward to hearing from you.