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In addition to autoimmune disorders in which the body's immune system attacks healthy tissue, causing pain and swelling, rheumatologists also treat muscle and bone disorders that develop from the overuse of a joint, poor body positioning and the natural wear and tear of aging. These problems can arise at work or during sports and recreational activities.
Specialized training and experience uniquely qualifies rheumatologists for diagnosing and managing these conditions.
The most frequent disorders seen by sports medicine rheumatologists are ones that affect the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, legs or feet. The specific cause of the problem will depend on the nature and mechanics of the individual's body and the movements he or she makes during an activity. For example, swimming stresses the shoulders while tennis stresses the shoulders, wrists and elbows. Running stresses the hips, knees and legs. Ballet and gymnastics stress the back, ankles and feet.
Many problems of overuse or improper body movement are preventable. The best time to consult a rheumatologist is when you suspect a problem might arise, especially if you are starting a new sport or activity or have any problems or complaints that might get worse because of the new activity. Waiting until a problem develops often makes matters worse.
Rheumatologists are able to address most of these cases, but if the problem is more complex or if surgery may be needed, an individual is referred to a sports medicine orthopaedist.
Many painful muscle and bone conditions can be avoided by paying attention when you become tired, seeking medical treatment for symptoms when they first appear, enhancing your flexibility by stretching and maintaining aerobic conditioning.