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Arthritis Doctor


            There are several different medical specialties that treat patients with arthritis, so there is no one particular arthritis doctor.  With that said,  A rheumatologist is a doctor that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases involving the joints, muscles, and bones.  A rheumatologist has completed the same training as an internist or pediatrician and an additional two or three years of fellowship training in rheumatology.  While many family practice doctors and internists may feel comfortable managing simple cases of arthritis, they will generally refer complicated or recalcitrant cases to a rheumatologist..  These medical specialties include a family practice doctor, internist, rheumatologist, orthopedist, and physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor.  In addition, acupuncturists, chiropractors, nutritionists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists may play important roles as part of the treatment team.  With all of these medical specialists, which doctor should you see first if you are concerned you may have arthritis?  

            A family practice doctor or an internist can be your arthritis doctor and would be your first choice if you are experiencing joint pain or stiffness.  Most family practice doctors and internists treat many patients with arthritis and will feel comfortable with at least the basics of most types of arthritis   If you have a rheumatologic disorder causing your arthritis (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis), your internist or family practice doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist. 

                      A physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist can be your arthritis doctor as well.  These specialists are also called physiatrists.  Physiatrists are doctors who specialize in optimizing patientsí function, and in the nonoperative care of musculoskeletal conditions.  When arthritis limits a patientís ability to function and perform his or her activities of daily living, a physiatrist is an appropriate specialist to consult.

            When surgery is being considered, an orthopedist may be consulted.  An orthopedist is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of bones and joints and can therefore also become your arthritis doctor.  Orthopedists are surgeons.  Orthopedists and physiatrists often work closely in conjunction to offer the best care non-surgical, surgical, and post-surgical care to the patient.  

            All physicians treating arthritis should work, when appropriate, in close cooperation with other health care providers such as physical therapists and occupational therapists.  Physical therapists works to restore or maintain strength, mobility and function through exercises.  Occupational therapists work to optimize patientsí function in activities of daily living such as dressing, grooming, meal preparation, and driving.  Chiropractors are health care providers who treat primarily by exercises, therapeutic modalities such as ultrasound and perform spinal manipulation.  Patients with rheumatoid arthritis may not be candidates for spinal manipulation of the cervical spine due to instability of upper cervical ligaments. 

Acupuncturists use small needles to treat arthritis pain.  Acupuncture originated in China thousands of years ago and is based on the theory that life energy flows through the body and can be accessed and manipulated through carefully placed needles.  Acupuncture has been shown to provide pain relief in fibromyalgia and other pain conditions.  Many physicians and patients find it helpful in the treatment of arthritis symptoms.  Acupuncturists can be medical doctors who took extra training to learn acupuncture, or non-medical doctors who trained only acupuncture and/or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). 


Grant Cooper, M.D.

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