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How Do Rheumatologists Normally Treat Osteoarthritis?

by Caitlin Obara

A rheumatologist is a physician who is specially trained to diagnose and treat various musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions that affect the joints, bones, and muscles in the body. One of the most common conditions that many rheumatologists diagnose and treat is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis that occurs when the cartilage at the end of the bones in the body deteriorates. It is often referred to as degenerative joint disease because it causes the joints to become stiffer and more painful over time. These are some of the treatments rheumatologists normally use to treat osteoarthritis.

Weight Loss

For those osteoarthritis patients who are overweight, losing weight can help relieve some of the pain and discomfort. The more excess weight that is placed on the joint, the more severe the pain can be. A rheumatologist may refer an overweight patient to a weight loss doctor or he may also devise a diet and exercise plan that encourages weight loss. The rheumatologist may work together with the patient's family doctor to decide what lifestyle changes the patient can safely make to help him lose weight.


A rheumatologist may also use different types of therapy to help relieve the patient's pain and stiffness. This may include consulting with a physical therapist to set up a regular schedule of appointments to give the patient long term pain relief. The rheumatologist may also recommend that the patient use both heat and cold therapy at home to keep his symptoms of osteoarthritis better under control.


The rheumatologist may recommend the patient tries to treat his symptoms of osteoarthritis with over the counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. If over the counter medications do not provide adequate relief for severe pain, it may be necessary to prescribe stronger prescription medications. This may include narcotic pain relievers medications and muscle relaxers.


Rheumatologists also recommend that patients try having injections directly into the painful joints to help relieve pain and stiffness. These injections may be an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid for reducing pain and inflammation or a natural lubricant that prevents the joints from rubbing against bone and causing irritation.

Depending upon where the arthritic joints are located in the patient's body, it may be possible to relieve some of the pain and inflammation through joint replacement surgery. If the rheumatologist feels the patient is a good candidate for this, he may refer the patient to a surgeon who specializes in joint replacement.