Soft Tissue Rheumatism

“Rheumatism” is an old-fashioned term, with no scientific meaning, but the term “soft tissue rheumatism” is still used to describe a group of conditions that cause pain, swelling, or inflammation in the soft tissue around the joints – tendons, muscles, bursas, and ligaments. Bursitis and tendonitis are common examples of soft tissue rheumatism. These problems can result from overuse or misuse of the joints and surrounding tissues, and can also occur together with underlying arthritis.

Physicians at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Center for Arthritis and Joint Diseases collaborate with BWH specialists in orthopedics, bone and joint radiology, occupational and physical therapy, podiatry, pain management, physiatry, and other services to evaluate and treat soft tissue rheumatism.


The following are some common soft tissue rheumatism symptoms.

  • Pain around the shoulder when lifting the arm or reaching for the back – caused by tendonitis, or inflammation of a tendon.
  • Pain due to problems of the rotator cuff, the large group of tendons at the shoulder.
  • Pain around the hip joint and along the thigh (trochanteric bursitis) – caused inflammation of a bursa, a fluid-filled sac, outside the hip. There are many bursas at other parts of the body that also can become inflamed and painful.
  • Tendonitis and bursitis at the knee.
  • Pain along the elbow during strenuous activities (tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow).
  • Heel pain and stiffness – caused by inflammation of the Achilles tendon or the tissue under the heel.
  • Catching or triggering of a finger – caused by a nodule in a tendon.
  • Pain along the thumb and wrist (de Quervain's tenosynovitis) – may occur in mothers with young babies.


A complete medical history and a thorough physical examination are instrumental in diagnosing a soft tissue rheumatic disorder. Your physician may also order imaging and lab tests to help evaluate the condition.


Treatment for soft tissue rheumatism is aimed at stopping inflammation and relieving pain. Treatments may include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Corticosteroids, either orally or by injection, to relieve pain.
  • Physical therapy and occupational therapy to promote ideal body movements.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a soft tissue rheumatism specialists at our Center for Arthritis and Joint Diseases, please call 1-800-294-9999 or use our online appointment request form.


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