Rheumatology is the multidisciplinary branch of medicine that deals with the investigation, diagnosis and management of patients with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. This incorporates over 200 disorders affecting joints, bones, muscles and soft tissues, including inflammatory arthritis and other systemic autoimmune disorders, vasculitis, soft tissue conditions, spinal pain and metabolic bone disease.
One of the most common musculoskeletal diseases covered by this department is arthritis although there are a large number of other inflammatory conditions that you may be referred to a rheumatologist to see.
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint.
Types of arthritis
The two most common types of arthritis are:
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK.
It most often develops in adults who are in their late 40s or older. It’s also more common in women and people with a family history of the condition. However, it can occur at any age as a result of an injury or be associated with other joint-related conditions, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness.
Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes.
Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position.
The most commonly affected joints are those in the:
It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men.
Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are two different conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling.
The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint’s shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down.
People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.
Other types of arthritis and related conditions
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Cervical and Lumbar spondylosis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Reactive arthritis
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
Symptoms of arthritis
The symptoms of arthritis you experience will vary depending on the type you have.
This is why it’s important to have an accurate diagnosis if you have:
- joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
- inflammation in and around the joints
- restricted movement of the joints
- warm, red skin over the affected joint
- weakness and muscle wasting
There’s no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow down the condition.
For osteoarthritis, medications are often prescribed, including:
In severe cases, the following surgical procedures may be recommended:
- arthroplasty (joint replacement)
- arthodesis (joint fusion)
- osteotomy (where a bone is cut and re-aligned)