Rheumatism is a medical term once frequently used to describe disorders associated with many different parts of the body. Most often, people associate the word with arthritis, or with rheumatic fever, a complication of strep throat that can result in damage to the heart. The term can be used to refer to the symptoms of numerous conditions that can cause pain and/or weakness, however.
Some conditions that were once given the general label of rheumatism or called rheumatic diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and tendinitis. Frequently, autoimmune disorders, since they remained unnamed but caused pain as well as affecting other organs, were grouped together under this label. Illnesses like lupus were particularly susceptible to being called rheumatism. Later understanding of the actions of these illnesses show that the problem is not dysfunction of the joints, but rather immune systems that can attack joints, muscles and organs.
Some forms are called non-articular rheumatism and may affect the soft tissues causing pain throughout the body. Conditions like tendinitis and fibromyalgia fall into this category. In addition, these forms can be localized to specific areas in the body. Bursitis is form that affects and inflames the bursa, which are special sacs that protect joints and overlapping muscles. It most frequently occurs at the site of a joint that may have been injured through overuse.
Other forms of non-articular rheumatism may also result from repetitive motion. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is in this class and is often caused by poor position when typing, or by positional problems when assembling multiple products of the same type.
Another type is temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), which only affects the joints in the jaws. Many people suffer from this condition, which can cause the mouth to get stuck when its open or closed, or cause painful popping and clicking when the jaw is moved.
The general term rheumatism is seldom heard now in medical communities because health professionals feel that specific naming of illnesses can better point toward standards or treatment and care. Treating lupus, for example, is hugely different from treating bursitis or TMJ. With more specified names comes specified research that can help determine a range of information about an illness. Overly general terms lack the specificity required to define the action of a condition, which best directs effective treatment.