If you’re experiencing joint pain, you want to know where to go to seek relief. Joint pain can be debilitating, making even the most ordinary everyday tasks unbearable, making it an urgent problem to get treated. But who is the best specialist to treat your joint pain: a rheumatologist or an orthopedist? While there is overlap between rheumatology and orthopedics specialists (both treat joint pain), it’s important to understand the core differences between these 2 specialties to make an informed decision about which provider would be best for you.

The main difference between rheumatology and orthopedics is that orthopedists are surgical specialists, whereas rheumatologists are medical specialists who use medication and other nonsurgical treatments. If you’re unaware of which specialist would be best for your medical condition, it’s wise to seek the guidance of your primary care provider to guide you in the right direction.

What Do Rheumatology Doctors Do?

Rheumatologists are experts in the treatment of inflammatory autoimmune disorders. These conditions, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, involve the patient’s immune system attacking its own healthy body tissue rather than invading external disease agents. Your primary care provider may refer you to a rheumatologist if you experience joint pain, especially if there was no prior injury. If your joint pain is accompanied by fatigue, fever, rash, or stiffness, it could also indicate an inflammatory disorder. Sometimes abnormal blood test results can also indicate a rheumatic illness.

What Conditions Does a Rheumatologist Treat? 

Rheumatologists specialize in treating arthritis, musculoskeletal conditions, and autoimmune diseases. There are countless conditions that impact the joints, bones, ligaments, and various other tissues. It's common for rheumatic conditions to be difficult to diagnose, so rheumatologists use their expertise to both diagnose and treat patients. 

Here are a few common conditions that rheumatologists treat; however, this list is certainly not comprehensive: 

  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Lupus
  • Gout
  • Reactive arthritis
  • And several more

What Do Orthopedics Doctors Do?

Orthopedists are specialists in the musculoskeletal system, including the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues. These specialists are trained in diagnosing and treating bone and joint disease and injuries, which may involve orthopedic surgery. Your primary care provider is likely to refer you to an orthopedist if you have joint or musculoskeletal pain from a previous injury. A primary care provider may also refer you to an orthopedic surgeon if they suspect you’ll need surgical treatment to correct joint pain, such as a total knee or hip replacement.

Orthopedists often treat conditions such as osteoarthritis (the “wear and tear” form of arthritis), nerve pain, sports injuries, herniated discs, osteoporosis, and many other conditions. Although orthopedics involves surgical correction of many musculoskeletal problems, being referred to an orthopedic surgeon doesn’t necessarily mean you will absolutely need surgery to correct your joint pain or injury.

Do You Have Joint Pain? We Can Help.

At Orthopedic Specialists of Southwest Florida, we understand how chronic pain disrupts your quality of life. At our practice, we can help you find the relief you crave from your joint pain, sports injuries, or other orthopedic concerns. If you’ve sustained disability or suffer from arthritis pain, body trauma, an injury accident, or something similar, our orthopedics treatments can help.

For more information or to schedule a consultation at Orthopedic Specialists of Southwest Florida, please call (239) 215-2008 today or reach out online to book an appointment.