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Which doctor should you see, an orthopedist or rheumatologist?

The medical profession has many specialists a patient can choose from. Having so many options can also make it difficult to select the doctor who will be able to assist them the best way possible. This can be true when deciding to see a rheumatologist or an orthopedist, since both specialize in treating pain in the joints.

Knowing this, it is important to understand that an orthopedist specializes in treating joint pain from a surgical perspective while a rheumatologist specializes in joint pain from a nonsurgical perspective.

Knowing the difference between these specialties will allow you to make a decision that is more informed and appropriate for your pain.

Prior to Your Decision

Prior to making your decision of which specialist to see for your joint pain, you need to be seen by your primary doctor first. Your PCP will conduct an initial exam based on the symptoms you describe. They may also have you obtain lab work and X-rays to rule out any irregularities which may be causing your pain. Based on what they determine they may prescribe medications to relieve your pain. Although the pain medications may benefit you, your PCP may also decide to make a referral to see either a rheumatologist or orthopedist. This referral will be dependent upon your PCPs diagnosis.

The following are explanations of what a rheumatologist and orthopedist do and the symptoms and conditions they treat.

A Rheumatologist

When a doctor specializes in rheumatology, they are studying inflammatory autoimmune conditions and their causes in order to make a diagnosis for treatment.

A rheumatologist can have more training so that they can specialize as a pediatrician or internist. Their experience includes the ability to make diagnosis and treat a wide variety of pain conditions associated with arthritis such as adult and juvenile. They also treat conditions associated with muscle, bone, tissue, and joint.

Although a rheumatologist is commonly known to treat arthritis, they can also treat other conditions such as:

  • Gout
  • APS
  • Vasculitis
  • Myositis
  • Scleroderma
  • Fibromyalgia

Referral may be made when you experience the following type of pain:

  • Pain due to psoriasis
  • Back pain
  • Pain associated with insect bites
  • Rheumatic disease
  • General joint pain

An Orthopedist

The orthopedist is commonly known as an orthopedic surgeon and specializes in the surgical intervention of joint pain among the muscles and ligaments.

Although the orthopedist has many procedures at their disposal to make treatment possible, they will almost always involve a form of surgery.

Referral may be made when you are experiencing the following conditions:

  • Replacement of joints
  • Pain related to injury
  • Pain that is progressive
  • Arthritis pain

The following conditions can be treated by an orthopedist

  • Sciatica
  • Scoliosis
  • Arthritis
  • Herniated disk
  • Neuropathy
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain

Which Doctor Should You See

When you visit your PCP, you will be advised on what your next option should be for the treatment of your pain. For insurance purposes, a referral may be needed and it may depend on what your insurance covers.


When you are experiencing a lot of pain associated with different conditions, you need to get checked by your personal physician. They will then make a determination of whether you should see a pain specialist. If you would like additional information, then feel free to give us a call today.

Posted in: Blog, Diagnostic Testing, Injury Documentation, Injury Treatment, Orthopedics, Uncategorized, Work Injuries, Workers Compensation