Difference between Orthopaedic and Rheumatologist

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Aman Priya Khanna
Written by Shivani Arora, last updated on 1 December 2022| min read
Difference between Orthopaedic and Rheumatologist

Quick Summary

  • Orthopaedics and rheumatology are two medical specialties that deal with joint pain.
  • Orthopaedics focuses on the treatment of injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system, while rheumatology focuses on the treatment of autoimmune diseases and other conditions that affect the joints.
  • Both orthopaedics and rheumatology can be helpful in treating joint pain, but the right specialty for you will depend on the underlying cause of your pain.

Are you suffering from joint pain and wondering which healthcare professional to visit for appropriate treatment? With a massive overlap between medical specializations and disciplines today, you may find it difficult to decide which doctor is right for your problem. It becomes especially difficult to choose between an orthopaedic and a rheumatologist as both these physicians specialize in treating joint pain. 

So what is the difference between orthopaedic and rheumatologists? Do they treat different types of joint pain? Continue reading the blog to find answers to these questions. 

Who is an Orthopaedic Surgeon?

An orthopaedic surgeon or orthopaedist specializes in the musculoskeletal system, including your muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues. These doctors are trained in handling injuries, disorders, treatment, prevention, and repair of the musculoskeletal system. Locations of injuries handled by orthopaedic surgeons may include your neck, shoulders, back, hands, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. 

Orthopaedics involves surgical correction of any musculoskeletal problems. However, referring to an orthopaedic surgeon does not necessarily mean that you require surgery to treat the joint injury or pain. Your primary care provider may advise you to consult an orthopedist for the following:

  1. Joint or muscular pain after an injury
  2. Pain in the hip or knee from bearing weight
  3. Severe joint pain that interferes with daily functioning
  4. Unsuccessful previous surgery for an injury or joint pain
  5. Osteoarthritis of the hip or knee
  6. Require a joint replacement surgery, especially for hips and knees

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Who is a Rheumatologist?

Like orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists are also trained to treat musculoskeletal conditions, muscles, bones, nerves, ligaments, and tendons. Rheumatologists specialize in treating inflammatory autoimmune disorders. In autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, your immune system attacks its own healthy body tissue instead of invading external disease agents. 

Rheumatologists specialize in treating synchronous pain experienced in different body parts or unrelated to a specific event. They use nonsurgical options like medicine and physical therapy to treat chronic conditions or manage the disease. Sometimes, a rheumatologist may refer you to an orthopaedist if surgery becomes a viable option. Your primary care provider may advise you to consult a rheumatologist for the following:

  1. Pain in multiple joints
  2. Joint pain not associated with an injury
  3. Joint or muscle pain accompanied by fever, fatigue, headache, chest pain, stiffness, or psoriasis (an autoimmune disease that causes rashes or patches on the skin)
  4. Joint pain with back pain
  5. Back pain with or without leg pain
  6. Recurring headaches and muscle aches, with or without any other symptoms
  7. Symptoms like sweating or unexplained weight loss

Orthopaedist vs Rheumatologist

Since both these specialists treat conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, there is an overlap between an orthopaedic surgeon and a rheumatologist. However, the two are quite different. The treatment approach and the conditions treated differ for both these types of doctors. The following table includes the differences between an orthopaedic surgeon and a rheumatologist. 


Orthopaedic Surgeon



Treating bone and joint injuries and diseases

Treating autoimmune diseases

Treatment Approach

Use surgery along with nonsurgical options

Uses nonsurgical options, like medicine and physical therapy


Proactive treatment and further prevention

Managing chronic illnesses or inflammation

Conditions treated
  1. Torn ligaments
  2. Broken bones
  3. Damaged cartilage
  4. Torn or strained muscles
  5. Arthritis
  6. Scoliosis
  7. Nerve pain
  8. Neck pain
  9. Back pain
  10. Surgical repair of joints
  11. Sciatica
  12. Herniated disc
  13. Pinched nerve
  14. Neuropathy
  15. Osteoporosis
  16. Whiplash
  1. Rheumatoid arthritis
  2. Lupus
  3. Gout
  4. Dermatomyositis
  5. Myositis
  6. Fibromyalgia
  7. Antiphospholipid syndrome
  8. Erythematosus
  9. Polymyalgia rheumatica
  10. Vasculitis
  11. Sarcoidosis
  12. Sjogren’s syndrome
  13. Scleroderma 


Choosing Between an Orthopaedic Surgeon and a Rheumatologist

To decide the most suitable doctor for your joint-related problems, the first task is to identify the cause of the pain. It may be best to consult an orthopaedic surgeon if you believe that your pain is caused by the following factors:

  1. An injury caused by sports
  2. Bumps and bruises
  3. A previous injury appeared again
  4. A previous surgery from which you are still recovering

An orthopaedic surgeon will perform diagnostic tests to check your range of motion, identify the movements that cause pain, and locate the exact area of the joint pain. 

Before choosing between the two specialists, you should also consider the symptoms you are experiencing. Rheumatoid diseases generally cause secondary symptoms along with joint pain. You may want to consult a rheumatologist if you experience the following symptoms related to an underlying autoimmune disease:

  1. Fever
  2. Fatigue
  3. Swelling without injury
  4. Unexplained weight loss
  5. Body stiffness
  6. Skin conditions
  7. Overly warm areas of the body

Seek Medical Assistance

If you have any more doubts regarding the difference between an orthopaedist and a rheumatologist or are confused about who to consult for your symptoms, you can get in touch with HexaHealth TODAY! Our expert doctors will discuss your symptoms and make an initial assessment. We will connect you with the best orthopaedist or rheumatologist as per your needs. Furthermore, if you require surgical intervention, our team will assist you throughout the journey, from admission to the hospital to aftercare and recovery. 

Frequently Asked Questions

An orthopaedic surgeon can prescribe several treatment options to treat the symptoms that affect your musculoskeletal system. These treatment options include:

  1. Corticosteroids injections for pain management
  2. Develop a course of treatment for managing arthritis pain in athletes
  3. Platelet-rich plasma therapy to reduce pain and achieve better function
  4. Physical therapy to improve strength, mobility, flexibility, balance, and coordination
  5. Surgical procedures to replace damaged joints (used when conservative methods fail)

 Yes, you can see arthritis on an MRI, which is a useful test for diagnosing joint problems. The sensitivity of an MRI makes it the most effective tool to detect arthritis and inflammation. 


You should see a rheumatologist when you experience the following symptoms:-

  1. Pain in multiple joints
  2. Joint pain not associated with an injury
  3. Joint or muscle pain accompanied by fever, fatigue, headache, chest pain, stiffness, or psoriasis (an autoimmune disease that causes rashes or patches on the skin)
  4. Joint pain with back pain
  5. Back pain with or without leg pain
  6. Recurring headaches and muscle aches, with or without any other symptoms
  7. Symptoms like sweating or unexplained weight loss
Yes, arthritis comes under orthopaedics. An orthopaedic surgeon treats the types of degenerative arthritis. For other arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, an orthopaedic surgeon may need to work closely with a rheumatologist.

 A rheumatologist treats the following autoimmune diseases:

  1. Lupus
  2. Scleroderma
  3. Psoriatic arthritis
  4. Rheumatoid arthritis
  5. Sjogren’s syndrome
  6. Vasculitis
  7. Gout

An orthopaedic hand specialist can help ease the symptoms of arthritis in fingers. They may also perform surgery if arthritis in your fingers is severe or other treatments fail. However, rheumatoid arthritis in fingers is best treated by a rheumatologist.


An orthopaedic surgeon is trained and qualified to diagnose orthopaedic problems, perform treatment, and help with rehabilitation. Furthermore, they develop long-term strategies to treat problems related to your bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the least intrusive way possible. Orthopedists perform a wide range of procedures, such as hand, knee, hip, ankle, back, and neck surgeries. 


Yes, orthopaedic doctors can treat gout with medications to reduce pain and inflammation. However, a rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in treating gout. 


Doctors diagnose arthritis using a series of tests. They perform a physical examination to check the joint for swelling, redness, and warmth. Tests to diagnose arthritis include:

  1. X-rays: Shows cartilage loss, bone spurs, and bone damage
  2. CT scan: Views bone and the surrounding soft tissues
  3. MRI: Produces detailed images of soft tissues, such as ligaments, tendons, and cartilage
  4. Ultrasound: Creates images of soft tissues and bursae (fluid-containing structures near your joint)

A rheumatologist diagnoses manage and treats a wide range of autoimmune conditions, such as:

  1. Rheumatoid arthritis
  2. Lupus
  3. Gout
  4. Psoriatic arthritis
  5. Sjogren’s syndrome
  6. Scleroderma
  7. Dermatomyositis
  8. Myositis
  9. Fibromyalgia
  10. Antiphospholipid syndrome
  11. Erythematosus
  12. Polymyalgia rheumatica
  13. Vasculitis
  14. Sarcoidosis

Rheumatologists order blood tests that help diagnose arthritis and monitor the treatment progress. These blood tests include:

  1. Rheumatoid factor: Used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis and, sometimes, Sjogren’s syndrome
  2. Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody: Used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis
  3. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate: Used to diagnose nonspecific inflammation in the body
  4. C-reactive protein: Used to diagnose autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation, such as lupus

The best doctor to see for arthritis is a rheumatologist, who specializes in managing diseases that involve bones, joints, and muscles. They can treat all types of arthritis, especially those requiring complex treatment. They may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon if you have degenerative arthritis. 


 No, rheumatoid arthritis is not an orthopaedic condition. Orthopaedics focuses on problems due to wear and tear, injury, and congenital defects, whereas rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic condition that affects the entire body. 


Yes, a rheumatologist treats joint pain. They are trained and qualified to treat systemic autoimmune diseases that cause pain and inflammation of the joints. 


Before visiting a rheumatologist, prepare a list of questions you want to ask. Some of these questions can include the following:

  1. Is there any damage to my joints due to arthritis?
  2. What can I do to relieve pain at night while sleeping?
  3. When will I feel better?
  4. What are the side effects of rheumatoid arthritis medications? How can I prevent them?
  5. Will I have to take these medicines for the rest of my life?
  6. Will physical therapy help my condition?
  7. What exercises should I do to manage my pain?
  8. What should I do when the pain increases?
  9. Are there any natural treatments for pain management?
  10. Should I avoid any food?

The primary difference between rheumatology and orthopaedic is the pain that you experience. Rheumatology deals with pain caused by autoimmune diseases. In contrast, orthopaedics deals with pain directly related to the musculoskeletal system, such as broken bones, torn ligaments, damaged cartilage, etc. 


 A rheumatologist specializes in treating arthritis and other autoimmune diseases and conditions, such as gout, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, etc. 


Updated on : 1 December 2022

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational and learning purposes only. It doesn't cover every medical condition and might not be relevant to your personal situation. This information isn't medical advice, isn't meant for diagnosing any condition, and shouldn't replace talking to a certified medical or healthcare professional.


Dr. Aman Priya Khanna

Dr. Aman Priya Khanna

MBBS, DNB General Surgery, Fellowship in Minimal Access Surgery, FIAGES

12 Years Experience

Dr Aman Priya Khanna is a well-known General Surgeon, Proctologist and Bariatric Surgeon currently associated with HealthFort Clinic, Health First Multispecialty Clinic in Delhi. He has 12 years of experience in General Surgery and worke...View More


Shivani Arora

Shivani Arora

BA Journalism and Mass Communication

2 Years Experience

She is an accomplished new-age professional who has interviewed prominent personalities such as Bhaichung Bhutia, G. Sathiyan, Shashi Tharoor, etc. A content writer interested in health communication, graphic desi...View More

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