Rheumatism is a term that describes pain and weakness that occurs as the result of disease in the body or the musculoskeletal system.

Rheumatism, or rheumatic disorder, is an ache or pain in the musculoskeletal system. Arthritis is a special form of rheumatism. Both the terms rheumatism and arthritis are terms that are non-specific when it comes to the part of the body that is in pain or the cause of the pain.

Rheumatism is any type of problem in the musculoskeletal system, and usually causes pain or limited motion of the structures involved. Rheumatism is not a term that is used interchangeably with rheumatoid - as in rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis describes a specific systemic disease in which the immune system of the body becomes reprogrammed to attack its own joint tissues as if they were pathogens in the body.

Rheumatic disorders are medical conditions where the connective tissues and joints in the musculoskeletal system become injured, broken, or worn down due to years or wear and tear. The study of the cause of these medical conditions, how they cause pain, and the treatment of joint and connective tissue conditions is called rheumatology.

The term "rheumatism" is seldom used today commonly and rarely by medical doctors. There is no longer any recognized disorder simply called "rheumatism." With the advanced in genetic testing, blood testing, medical imaging, and our overall knowledge of the musculoskeletal system, much more specific diagnoses are made concerning the precise body structures that have become injured, causing pain and dysfunction, and also the cause of injury in that body structure. Learning the precise joints that are causing the pain and the cause of that joint disease gives doctors better treatment outcomes, and enables the doctors the ability to select joint pain and back pain treatments that are the least invasive to the body.

Before doctors had the understanding of the musculoskeletal that they do today, and the ability to look into the structures and processes of the body, they used the term rheumatism to describe a condition in the body that caused weakness and pain. The term rheumatism used to also be associated with medical conditions such as arthritis and rheumatic fever, which is a medical condition that is easily preventable today. Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that occurs following an outbreak of scarlet fever or streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat) in the body, which results in an inflammatory condition that causes global joint pains, nodules below the skin, skin rashes, and myocarditis. Today, rheumatic fever is rare today due to our ability to prevent scarlet fever, and to treat strep throat.

Today, we know much more about the anatomy of the body, and we are much more able to understanding how the different musculoskeletal structures move and interact interdependently with one another. This means that we have a fuller understanding of how certain joint structures work, and how they affect the other parts of the joint when they become injured or degenerated. Today, we also have a better understanding is the origin of a person's pain is due to the injury or degeneration of a specific body structure, or to a systemic (inflammatory) disease. Systemic, or inflammatory, diseases are diseases that affect organ systems or joints throughout the body. Pain that is the result of injury or wear and tear of specific joints or body structures is known as mechanical pain. Acute mechanical back pain is the most common type of back pain. Pain in the joints or structures of the musculoskeletal system that is the result of systemic disease is described to be caused by a medical disorder.

Some conditions that were once given the generic label of rheumatic disease, or rheumatism, include:
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Bursitis
  • Capsulitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Temporal arteritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Tenosynovitis