Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Robert Shmerling, M.D., is associate physician and clinical chief of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an associate professor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program and has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 25 years.


Posts by Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Taking advantage of incidental findings

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

As imaging tests like CT scans and MRIs have become more commonplace, so have incidental findings — abnormalities picked up by the test that weren’t what the test was looking for. In some cases, such as finding calcium deposits in the blood vessels during a routine mammogram, these findings may lead to earlier, potentially lifesaving, treatment for another condition. But in many other cases, these “incidentalomas” are more stressful than helpful.

Tai chi may be as good as physical therapy for arthritis-related knee pain

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Treatment options for osteoarthritis of the knee are limited, and many people turn to surgery as a last resort — so there’s a lot of interest in non-invasive treatments for this common condition. Researchers have just completed a head-to-head trial of standard physical therapy versus the traditional Chinese practice of tai chi, and they’ve found the latter is just as good as the former. If it’s something you’d like to try, go for it!

Here’s something unexpected: Sunbathers live longer

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

You’ve probably been told all your life that spending lots of time in the sun can be bad for you. Surprisingly (and just in time for summer), a new study has reported health benefits — including an extended life span — from sun exposure. But before you shut off the computer and head for the beach, you should know that this study also comes with some important caveats.

The truth about tequila and your bones

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

You may have seen the recent headlines proclaiming that tequila is good for bone health. While that sounds appealing to many, the truth is that there are many caveats to the study behind those headlines. This latest story is just one example of news articles that proclaim our favorite foods, like coffee and chocolate, are actually good for us. As with all these stories, it’s important to look deeper than the flashy headline.

Physical therapy after hip replacement: Can rehab happen at home?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Hip replacement surgery is becoming increasingly common. After this type of surgery, people are required to undergo rehab to help them become stronger and steadier with their new joint. Traditionally, this has involved lots of back-and-forth to physical therapy appointments. But a new study suggests that many people may be able to do their exercises at home instead — with nearly identical results.

Taking your medications as prescribed: Smartphones can help

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many people don’t take their medications exactly as prescribed. While some do this purposefully, plenty more simply forget. Researchers have studied several different methods to help people remember their medication, but a new study has revealed one that stands out among the rest: texting. While the study does have some limitations, it’s an impressive reminder that the technology sitting in many people’s pockets and purses can be a powerful tool to help them improve their health.

Medical news: A case for skepticism

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Stories about medical research are often presented in a manner that makes the findings seem more significant than they really are. It is important to approach such stories with a degree of skepticism, and appropriately tempered expectations.

Running injury? Maybe you’re doing it all wrong

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The benefits of regular exercise are well understood, but some forms of exercise carry a higher risk of injury than others. A new study of female runners suggests that an individual’s running style may play a role in susceptibility to injury, but it also raises questions about technique that warrant further study.

How useful is the body mass index (BMI)?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The body mass index (BMI) has long been considered an important way to gauge your risk for many chronic conditions, from arthritis to sleep apnea to heart disease. But like all medical measures, BMI is not perfect — and a recent study has revealed that BMI alone may not be a solid measure of cardiovascular health. Here, we’ve examined the pros and cons of the BMI, and whether it’s a number worth knowing.

My fall last fall: Reaction time and getting older

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Being able to react to a fall — throwing out a hand, grabbing a railing — often makes the fall less serious. But our reaction times slow as we age, making this kind of quick adjustment much harder as we get older. We’ve examined some of the biological reasons why falling becomes more serious as we age and some ways to make falling less likely — including the possibility of improving slowed reaction times.