Rheumatology is the subspecialty of internal medicine concerned with joints, muscles and bones and their roles in health and disease.
Rheumatologists must first complete seven or more years of medical school and postgraduate training and become board certified in Internal Medicine. Then, for an additional two to three years, they study conditions specific to the musculoskeletal system – arthritis, certain autoimmune diseases, pain disorders and osteoporosis.
What rheumatologists do
Rheumatologists are specially trained to do the detective work necessary to discover the cause of swelling and pain. It could be one of more than 100 diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, back pain, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia or tendonitis.
When you need a rheumatologist
If pain in the joints, muscles or bones are not severe or disabling and last just a few days, it makes sense to give the problem a reasonable chance to be resolved. But if the pain persists for more than a few days, you should see an internist, who may refer you to a rheumatologist. Many of these disorders are not easily identified in the early stages. Some of them are very serious and difficult to treat.
How rheumatologists work with other physicians
Usually rheumatologists work with other physicians, advising them about a specific diagnosis or treatment plan. In other cases they manage many skilled professionals such as nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers.