Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Physiatry is the medical discipline that focuses on physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). Physiatrists, or rehabilitation physicians, are trained to treat injuries or disorders of the bones, muscles, or nerves that affect movement. Their primary focus is to maximize patients' physical function and quality of life without surgery, no matter what their disabilities.

Services Provided by Physiatrists

Physiatrists may treat patients directly, serve as consultants, or function as the heads of interdisciplinary teams. Holistic in outlook, physiatry is designed to treat the whole person, not just the area of injury or defect. Physiatrists provide many important services, including:

  • Diagnosis and treatment of pain and other symptoms
  • Restoration of as much patient function as possible
  • Prescription of orthotics, prosthetics or assistive devices such as braces or wheelchairs

Physiatrists often design a treatment plan that includes input and participation from other health care specialists, such as neurologists, orthopedists, psychologists, and physical therapists. Although it may not be possible to cure the disorder, the physiatrist is trained to maximize the patient's movement capabilities, prevent or slow deterioration as much as possible, and improve the patient's quality of life.

Conditions Treated by Physiatrists

A wide variety of injuries and illnesses are treated by physiatrists. These include:

  • Amputations
  • Traumatic burn injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries or stroke
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Congenital disabilities
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Musculoskeletal pain syndromes
  • Muscle atrophy due to aging or incapacity

Musculoskeletal pain syndromes include conditions such as chronic low back pain and fibromyalgia.

Diagnostic Tools Used by Physiatrists

Typically, physiatrists used electrodiagnostic tools in evaluating a patient's condition, including electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies, and somatosensory procedures. These techniques are especially helpful in diagnosing the root causes of numbness, weakness, cramps or tingling.

Treatment Methods Used by Physiatrists

In addition to prescribing prosthetics, orthotics and assistive devices, physiatrists may prescribe medications. They also make use of the following treatment modalities:

  • Instruction in correct posture and behavior modification
  • Heat and cold therapies
  • Electrotherapies
  • Massage
  • Biofeedback
  • Traction
  • Therapeutic exercise

Physiatrists also often administer injections under ultrasound guidance in order to reduce inflammation in joints or trigger points.