The term ‘rheumatism’ is no more used in the field of medicine, but people do use it colloquially on a regular basis.
Rheumatism, also known as the rheumatic disorder, has long been associated with pain in various parts of the body. At times, people assume that rheumatism is same as arthritis, which is not true. Rheumatism is a generic term for various diseases which cause pain and stiffness in the joints, bones, etc., while arthritis refers to a group of diseases which specifically result in inflammation of the joints. So, the term rheumatism can also be used for the symptoms of various health conditions, including arthritis.
The term ‘rheumatism’, which is derived from a Greek word that means ‘to flow’, refers to the pain that is believed to flow from one joint to another. The origin of the word can be traced back to the ancient Greek belief that various diseases and disorders that we suffer from tend to originate in the slimy streams that flow within our body. In Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), the term ‘rheumatic diseases’ is used for various connective tissue disorders.
In a broad sense, the term encompasses numerous health problems associated with the joints and connective tissues in the body. Initially, autoimmune disorders, which caused pain in various parts of the body, were also classified as rheumatism. This changed when studies revealed that these ailments were not caused by problems in joints, but were caused as a result of a weak immune system. Advancement in the field of medicine has helped us to get to the root of the numerous illnesses, which were initially attributed to this condition. As a result of this, the term has been phased out from the medical terminology. It is still quite popular in colloquial terms though.
Simply put, those diseases which are typically characterized by their tendency to cause severe pain in joints, bones, tissues etc., are considered rheumatic diseases. Even though these diseases differ from each other to a considerable extent, they are brought under the umbrella term ‘rheumatism’ owing to one of the most common symptoms, chronic pain, and difficulty in their treatment. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common rheumatic disorders.
There also exists a non-articular form of rheumatism, which affects soft tissues in the body and causes severe pain. Among the various disorders in the non-articular category, tendonitis and fibromyalgia are undoubtedly the most common. They are referred to as generalized rheumatism owing to their tendency to affect the entire body.
There also exist specific disorders that affect a particular part of the body, such as bursitis, which affects the bursa―a small fluid sac located in between the moving parts of the body like joints, muscles, tendons, etc. Similarly, there is regional rheumatism, such as temporomandibular joint disorder, which affects a particular region of the body.
As far as the treatment of rheumatic disorders is concerned, modern medicine acknowledges the fact that each of these disorders has different causes and hence, a single method of treatment cannot be used to treat all of them. Analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which relieve pain, are widely used to treat these conditions. Additionally, the use of traditional medicine to treat rheumatism is also quite popular in various parts of the world.