The activities of a sports medicine physician and a rheumatologist overlap in relation to musculoskeletal pain. In many cases it is not clear which specialty to consult. A rheumatologist deals with pains that have an inflammatory origin, often due to a so-called autoimmune problem. Autoimmune diseases often cause joint problems, a good example is rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most common autoimmune conditions.
Once you have decided to see a doctor, how do you decide whether to see a rheumatologist or a sports medicine physician?
A sports medicine physician is mainly concerned with musculoskeletal problems that develop from exertion, and these problems can occur not only in athletes, but also during everyday activities such as sitting down or getting out of the car.
Injuries can be acute or chronic, in acute injuries we usually remember the triggering movement, the time of the sudden onset of pain.
Among chronic problems, a sports medicine physician deals with so-called fatigue injuries, which develop from repetitive, usually inappropriate use. Examples include runners’ shin splints and tennis elbow.
Arthritis also develops as a result of exertion, but it is not always easy for a non-specialist to distinguish this from a specifically rheumatoid arthritis problem, especially as there can be an overlap between the two problems, as rheumatoid arthritis can also result in wear and tear.
Natural wear and tear of articular cartilage tends to occur in older age groups, but it can also develop at a young age as a result of regular intense use, such as long-distance running, or an anatomical, genetic abnormality.
In general, acute injuries and so-called fatigue, chronic pains are the main areas that a sports medicine physician deals with. Symmetrical pain, such as pain in both knees, and pain at night or in the morning, usually have underlying causes that require the expertise of a rheumatologist.