Facebook Pixel

Fight Osteoarthritis: Talk With Your Doctor

By January 24, 2011 - 8:28pm

When you have osteoarthritis, a great relationship with the right doctor can play a critical role in your treatment and the management of your pain and other symptoms. A good doctor-patient relationship is based on mutual respect and understanding.

When deciding on a doctor, it's important that you choose a physician who:
• has experience with your condition
• stays up to date with the latest in research and techniques
• is readily accessible to you when you have questions or when you need to be seen
• returns phone calls or emails (or has staff members who do)
• won't keep you waiting for months when you need to schedule an appointment

Dealing with osteoarthritis can be a sometimes frustrating, always interesting journey. That's why it's important to have a knowledgeable and understanding doctor along for the ride.

Finding a Rheumatologist
The telltale symptoms all seem to be there. You suspect you have osteoarthritis. Now what? Do you call your family doctor or do you need to see a specialist?

You can start with your primary care physician who may end up referring you to a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist is an internist or pediatrician who has completed additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones. Many rheumatologists also conduct research to determine the cause and better treatment for arthritis and related diseases.

Want to know more about your new doctor and his or her training? Here's some information from the American College of Rheumatology.

What kind of training do rheumatologists have?
After four years of medical school and three years of training in either internal medicine or pediatrics, rheumatologists devote an additional two to three years in specialized rheumatology training. Most rheumatologists who plan to treat patients choose to become board certified. Upon completion of their training, they must pass a rigorous exam conducted by the American Board of Internal Medicine to become certified.

What do rheumatologists treat?
Rheumatologists treat arthritis, certain autoimmune diseases, musculoskeletal pain disorders and osteoporosis. There are more than 100 types of these diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, back pain, osteoporosis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, fibromyalgia and tendonitis. Some of these are very serious diseases that can be difficult to diagnose and treat.

When should you see a rheumatologist?
If musculoskeletal pains 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 sometimes, pain in the joints, muscles or bones is severe or persists for more than a few days. At that point, you should see your physician.

Many types of rheumatic diseases are not easily identified in the early stages. Rheumatologists are specially trained to do the detective work necessary to discover the cause of swelling and pain. It's important to determine a correct diagnosis early so that appropriate treatment can begin early. Some musculoskeletal disorders respond best to treatment in the early stages of the disease.

Because some rheumatic diseases are complex, one visit to a rheumatologist may not be enough to determine a diagnosis and course of treatment. These diseases often change or evolve over time. Rheumatologists work closely with patients to identify the problem and design an individualized treatment program.

How does the rheumatologist work with other health care professionals?
The role the rheumatologist plays in health care depends on several factors and needs. Typically the rheumatologist works with other physicians, sometimes acting as a consultant to advise another physician about a specific diagnosis and treatment plan. In other situations, the rheumatologist acts as a manager, relying upon the help of many skilled professionals including nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers. Team work is important, since musculoskeletal disorders are chronic. Health care professionals can help people with musculoskeletal diseases and their families cope with the changes the diseases cause in their lives.

Is specialty care more expensive?
You may be surprised to learn that specialized care may save time and money and reduce the severity of disease. A rheumatologist is specially trained to spot clues in the medical history and physical examination. The proper tests done early may save money in the long run. Prompt diagnosis and specially tailored treatment often save money and buy time in treating the disease.

For more information
To find a rheumatologist in your area, check the American College of Rheumatology's directory. You can also find information about the role of different care givers in managing osteoarthritis.

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


Get Email Updates

Osteoarthritis Guide


Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!