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Rheumatism or rheumatic disorders are conditions causing chronic, often intermittent pain affecting the joints or connective tissue. Rheumatism does not designate any specific disorder, but covers at least 200 different conditions including arthritis and "non-articular rheumatism", also known as "regional pain syndrome" or "soft tissue rheumatism". There is a close overlap between the term soft tissue disorder and rheumatism. Sometimes the term "soft tissue rheumatic disorders" is used to describe these conditions.
Many rheumatic disorders of chronic, intermittent joint pain have historically been caused by infectious diseases. Their etiology was unknown until the 20th century and not treatable, like Lyme disease (in the Northern and Northeastern US), coccidiomycosis or Valley fever (in the Western US), and Chikungunya in India and a myriad of causes for postinfectious arthritis also known as reactive arthritis like, for example, the once very common rheumatic fever after Group A Streptococcus infection up to the rare Whipple's disease.
Major rheumatic disorders currently recognized[according to whom?] include
Although these disorders probably have little in common in terms of their epidemiology, they do share three characteristics: they cause chronic, often intermittent pain, they are difficult to treat and are collectively very common.
Rheumatic diseases caused by autoimmunity include:
A vast number of traditional herbal remedies have been recommended for "rheumatism". Modern medicine, both conventional and alternative, recognises that the different rheumatic disorders have different causes (and several of them have multiple causes) and require different kinds of treatment.
Nevertheless, initial therapy of the major rheumatological diseases is with analgesics, such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), members of which are ibuprofen and naproxen. Often, stronger analgesics are required.
The ancient Greeks recorded that bee venom had some beneficial effects on some types of rheumatism. Bee and ant stings were known as a folk remedy in the late 19th century, and at least one physician developed a treatment consisting of repeated formic acid injections. Certain Amazonian tribes, including the Zo'é, use fire ant stings as a remedy for aches and pains.
Cod liver oil has also been used as a remedy.
Before the 17th century, the joint pain which was thought to be caused by viscous humours seeping into the joints was always referred to as gout, a word adopted in Middle English from Old French gote "a drop; the gout, rheumatism", not to be confused with the present day specific term referring to excess of uric acid.
The English term rheumatism in the current sense has been in use since the late 17th century, as it was believed that chronic joint pain was caused by excessive flow of rheum which means bodily fluids into a joint.