This is one of the common questions I have been asked from patients as both these branches deal with bones and joints. However, rheumatologists focus more on joint disorders that can be treated medically (with medicines) while orthopedician specialize in surgical treatments and managing fractures. To help improve patients’ access to care and to ensure they get the best treatment possible, many orthopedic practices have expanded to include rheumatology services.
So, whom to choose when?
To give the short answer, orthopedicians deal with mechanical problems of the musculoskeletal system such as injuries and wear and tear and rheumatologists deal with diseases of those systems.
If your joint and bone symptoms start after an injury or trauma, it’s more appropriate to visit an orthopedic surgeon. Similarly if there is any need for a surgery like fracture reduction, a biopsy procedure or a joint replacement, a surgeon of Orthopedics is the right place to go.
However, if you are having any joint pains that do not require a surgical management, it is better to visit a Rheumatologist first, especially if there are many joints involved. If caught early enough, there are a variety of non-surgical treatment options, including medications, which can help with symptoms of inflammatory and systemic forms of arthritis.
Each speciality has their specific important role in the treatment of patients with various musculoskeletal disorders. An ideal balance between both these medical and surgical branches would be a prompt referral to the other when there are specific indications which cannot be managed by the treating speciality. For example, a patient with Rheumatoid arthritis is more prone to develop secondary osteoarthritis of the knees and a knee joint replacement at a proper time may maintain the quality of life of the patient. Similarly, a patient taking treatment for backpain would be better managed by a Rheumatologist if it is inflammatory in nature like the inflammatory low back pain of Spondyloarthropathy.
Our goal as doctors is the betterment of patients and a collaboration between rheumatologists and orthopedicians can improve outcomes for patients with rheumatic diseases.
MD (Medicine), DNB (Rheumatology)
Consultant: Arthritis, Joint Pain & Rheumatology Clinic