Rheumatology is that branch of medicine that concerns itself with the arthritic complaints, mainly rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis. From the Greek word rheum, meaning a kind of watery buildup, rheumatoid arthritis, once commonly called rheumatism, was once believed to be caused by a build up of fluid in the joints, the so-called 'water on the joints'. This was probably due to the fact that inflamed joints swell, and the ancients attributed that to fluid buildup. Now any discipline that studies joint and cartilage disease and dysfunction falls under the general category of rheumatology.
Rheumatology divides cases of arthritis into osteo-arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteo-arthritis is characterized by the general breakdown of the joint cartilage over time. This causes inflammation and pain in the joint in question, which is treated with anti-inflammatories.
Rheumatoid arthritis is more systemic, a painful swelling in all or most joints at once. As the joints are used throughout the day, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms decrease as joints 'warm up', while osteo-arthritis symptoms increase when affected joints are used. If you have symptoms in one knee but not the other, for instance, you are probably suffering from osteo-arthritis and not rheumatoid arthritis.
Of particular concern to doctors practicing rheumatology is the loss of muscle mass and mobility associated with arthritis. It's only natural, if a motion hurts, to avoid repeating that motion. Unfortunately, this can create a vicious cycle, and the particular motion may soon become impossible as the patient loses the muscle and the joint stiffens with disuses. Physiotherapy, particularly the manipulation of the limbs, is useful to retain or regain range of motion.
Rheumatology treatments include analgesics for pain, anti-inflammatories for swelling, and possibly steroids such as cortisone shots in severe cases. To date, managing symptoms is the best that rheumatology can offer; a cure for arthritis seems as far off as ever.