What Is the Best Doctor To See for Arthritis?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is the No. 1 cause of physical disability in the U.S. Nearly 60 million adults and 300,000 children are affected by the disease.

There are also over 100 different types of related conditions that can damage the joints and sometimes other organs. Typically, women are diagnosed with arthritis more frequently than men, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people are diagnosed with an arthritic condition in the Midwest and some East Coast states than any other area of the country.

If you have joint pain or have been diagnosed with arthritis, you may have questions about the types of doctors who treat arthritis and which one is the best to see for your condition.

What Types of Doctors Treat Arthritis?

There is overlap between several medical disciplines and specializations. Sometimes, it is difficult to figure out which type of doctor to see for your problem. If you have joint pain and think it might be arthritis, there are three types of doctors who generally treat the condition.

Primary Care

Your primary care physician may be the first person you think of when you have pain and discomfort in a joint. Primary care physicians can manage people who have osteoarthritis with standard treatments.

However, if your physician suspects there may be another type of joint problem, or if the symptoms don’t improve or get worse, they may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon or rheumatologist. There are several factors to consider when you are deciding between an orthopedic doctor and a rheumatologist.


A doctor of orthopedics generally handles conditions that affect the skeletal system and joint systems, including the ligaments and muscles. These physicians are specially trained in bone and joint disease and use a variety of tests to help them diagnose and treat bone conditions. An orthopedic doctor can treat conditions like arthritis, joint pain, herniated discs, pinched nerves, and neuropathy.


A doctor of rheumatology, also called a rheumatologist, is an expert in the treatment of inflammatory autoimmune disorders, such as fibromyalgia, lupus, and scleroderma. When you have an autoimmune condition, your immune system malfunctions and begins attacking healthy body tissue.

A rheumatologist may begin their medical career as an internist or a pediatrician but then continue to receive additional training and qualifications. Rheumatologists treat mechanical issues of the joints, including soft and connective tissue diseases. Rheumatologists are sometimes called arthritis doctors, but they also treat many other diseases.

What Is the Best Doctor to See for Your Arthritis?

There are several considerations you should address before determining the best doctor to see for your arthritis. The right type of doctor is one who is familiar not only with the joint and bone pain-related condition you have but also is a specialist in the area of the body where it occurs.

Many orthopedic surgeons specialize in specific types of injuries, especially in areas of the body that are complex, such as the back, hands, and shoulders.

The other factor to consider is the type of arthritis that your primary care physician believes you may have. The most common types of arthritis in the hands are rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is known as the wear and tear or degenerative type of arthritis that causes pain when the cartilage at the ends of the bone begins to break down and wear away. Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term inflammatory disease that causes pain, stiffness, and swelling. It is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body begins to attack its own healthy tissue.

Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that affects your skin and joints. Your fingers can swell, and you experience joint pain and morning stiffness. While it can look like rheumatoid arthritis, it typically only involves several fingers.

When you have arthritis in your hands, the best doctor to see for arthritis is one who specializes in the structure and function of the hands. Your hands are a complex bundle of tendons, muscles, bones, blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue.

A hand specialist is well educated and trained in the conditions of the hand, how to treat them, and how to help slow any long-term damage to the joints. This can help you maintain function in your hands much longer.

If you have pain, discomfort, or swelling in your hands, call the Comprehensive Hand Surgery Center and make an appointment with Dr. Galpern. Dr. Galpern is a board-certified hand and upper extremity surgeon who will take the time to evaluate your condition, answer your questions, and discuss a treatment plan that can help reduce your pain and improve your function.

Comprehensive Hand Surgery
Phone(804) 506-3050
2819 North Parham Road Richmond Suite 100, VA 23294 Get Directions