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MEET THE DOCTOR: Dilrukshie Cooray, M.D., Rheumatologist

drawing of leg and knee with bones

What’s Rheumatology?

Dr. Cooray: That’s the specialty of diagnosing and treating arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones. There are more than 120 illnesses that fall under this specialty. Some affect the immune system and cause inflammation such as lupus where the body attacks its own tissues or vasculitis which is inflammation of the blood vessels and myositis which is inflammation of the muscles.

Many of the illnesses you treat cause joint pain. Do you have any advice for relieving the discomfort?

Dr. Cooray: Many people over 50 suffer from degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis. There’s no perfect therapy in terms of medication. Healthy weight and physical therapy play a vital role in pain relief.

How can physical therapy help?

Dr. Cooray: It’s important for people to realize that their pain may be improved with muscle strengthening, a proper exercise regimen, and other modalities (heat, ice, ultrasound, massage, etc.) that may be done during physical therapy. The idea is not to work through pain, but to strengthen muscles to reduce joint pain and improve range of motion. Physical therapy is really underutilized in pain management.

What types of physical therapy do you recommend?

Dr. Cooray: For those with osteoarthritis I often recommend non-weight bearing exercise regimens such as a skilled aquatic programs (water therapy). Exercising in the water puts less strain on the joints. For those with knee pain I also encourage the use of orthopedic insoles to help relieve pressure on the knees.

Can you tell us how long you’ve been practicing and what makes your approach unique?

Dr. Cooray: I’ve been practicing rheumatology for almost eight years. I did my residency and fellowship at Loma Linda Medical Center.

I think my approach is unique because I try to treat the whole person and not just the symptom of pain. I really advocate a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle choices to help patients maintain a healthy weight because it does improve their symptoms. I also work very closely with the primary care doctor and other specialists taking care of the patient.

If you are suffering from pain, talk to your primary care physician about scheduling a visit with a rheumatologist.