What is Rheumatology?
Rheumatology is a branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of diseases of the musculoskeletal system. Traditionally this would encompass all forms of arthritis, as well as “soft tissue” conditions such as tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, neck and back pain.
However, in recent years advances in the treatment of inflammatory conditions has meant that rheumatologists spend an increasing proportion of their time looking after conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. These conditions can affect all ages, may be difficult to diagnose initially, and require treatment with powerful drugs that work on the immune system (“immunosuppressants”). In particular, the last decade had brought the “biologic” drugs, which work in a more targeted fashion on specific aspects of the immune system to bring benefits without the same risk profile.
Rheumatologists often work closely with a multidisciplinary team involving specialist nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists. They also work closely with orthopaedic surgeons and other medical specialists.
The minimum training requirements to become a Consultant Rheumatologist include five years at medical school to obtain a medical degree, four years of general medical training leading to Membership of the Royal College of Physicians, followed by at least four years of Higher Specialist Training in Rheumatology. Many doctors will undertake a period of research during their training, which extends the length of time it takes to achieve specialist status.