Rheumatologists diagnose and treat conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, such as osteoarthritis, the American College of Rheumatology states. They evaluate sources of discomfort, such as stiffness, soreness and swelling, in the bones, joints and muscles. Rheumatologists also oversee the treatment of patients with musculoskeletal deformities and systemic autoimmune diseases that trigger abnormal inflammation throughout the body. Primary care providers often refer patients to rheumatologists for conditions such as chronic back pain, gout and tendinitis.
Rheumatic diseases are often difficult to detect, so rheumatologists are trained to spot the early signs, provide a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan as soon as possible, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery. More than 100 rheumatic conditions exist, and they generally cause chronic symptoms. Depending on the condition, rheumatologists may coordinate a patient’s interactions with other types of practitioners, such as occupational therapists and psychologists, to provide the most effective treatment. Rheumatologists also act as consultants when other doctors need guidance on managing conditions that impact many aspects of a patient’s health or lifestyle.
Rheumatologists start gathering data for a diagnosis by examining a patient’s medical and family history, the American College of Rheumatology notes. They perform physical exams to find signs of inflammation and order diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, MRI scans and ultrasounds. Additionally, rheumatologists work closely with patients to discuss techniques for coping with musculoskeletal functions and improving any impaired functions.