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

The truth behind standing desks

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

Because sitting for long periods is linked to a greater risk of premature death, the popularity of standing desks is growing, but a study of calories burned while doing various activities suggests the caloric benefit of using a standing desk is not as significant as previous studies suggested.

The most important health problems (and why they matter)

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

Data from the CDC and elsewhere examining death rates and causes shows that the most common causes of death are not necessarily the ones of greatest concern to Americans. Understanding the causes of death is important, not only because of what they may say about how we live, but also to find ways to increase longevity.

Knee replacement: Life changing or a disappointment?

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

Osteoarthritis, the “wear and tear” form of arthritis, can cause pain and restricted movement in the joints. Joint replacement surgery (typically for knees and hips) can restore mobility and reduce pain. However, these procedures involve risk, recovery and rehabilitation time, and the joint may still not feel completely normal. However, for some, surgery may improve quality of life and be better than the alternatives.

Tossing flossing?

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

The recent media focus on the lack of evidence supporting the benefits of regular flossing overlooks the fact that it has not been studied in depth. Given the established links between gum disease and other health conditions, continuing to floss regularly makes sense.

“Double dipping” your chip: Dangerous or just…icky?

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

The idea of double dipping became a mainstream public worry because of an episode of Seinfeld, bringing up the idea that double dipping might be grosser than we originally thought it was. Although it originally started as a playful debate, double dipping does raise questions about the spread of bacteria, and believe it or not, research has tried to address these questions.

The U.S. longevity gap

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

It may surprise some to realize that life expectancy in the United States is lower than in other developed countries. The reasons include higher rates of motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses, and gun violence. They have a large effect on longevity because they predominantly affect young people. If there is good news, it’s that these contributors are preventable. Other factors that may be more difficult to tackle include inaccessible or unaffordable health care.

What Michelangelo’s hands (can and can’t) tell us about arthritis

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

A recent journal article describes Michelangelo’s hands as depicted in an attempt to figure out potential joint diseases he may have had. Theories suggest some myths and misconceptions about the causes and symptoms of osteoarthritis and gout. This report has implications for today’s medical care. While a picture may tell a story, there is nothing like a thorough, in person exam to know accurately make sense of signs and symptoms.

The times, they are a-changin’ (and bringing new syndromes)

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

If you spend lots of time looking at a screen, you may be at risk for “computer vision syndrome,” a cluster of eye-related symptoms that tend to afflict computer users. But is this really a new “syndrome,” or just a fancy name for eye strain? Here, we explore exactly what a syndrome is — and give you some tips to combat this newest addition to the list of technology-related “syndromes.”

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!