Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Physicians (Physiatrists)
Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), or physiatry (fĭz’ē-āt’rē or fĭ-zī’ə-trē), is a branch of medicine that aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to those with physical impairments or disabilities. A physician who has completed training in this field is referred to as a physiatrist. In order to be a physiatrist in the United States, one must complete four years of medical school, one year of internship and three years of residency. Physiatrists specialize in restoring optimal function to people with injuries to the muscles, bones, tissues, and nervous system (such stroke, traumatic and anoxic brain injury survivors.) Many people are unaware that there is a special branch of medicine specifically dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of physical disability.
Benefits of being treated by a physiatrist include:
- Restore maximum function lost through injury, illness or disabling conditions
- Lead a team of medical professionals
- Provide non-surgical treatments
- Experts at diagnosing and treating pain
- Treat the whole person, not just the problem area
- Explain your medical problems and treatment plan
- Work not only on treatment but also prevention
Physiatrists care for patients who have impairments from traumatic brain injury, strokes, anoxic brain injuries, orthopedic injuries, or neurologic disorders such as multiple sclerosis, polio, or ALS. Physiatrists care for patients with acute and chronic pain; patients with musculoskeletal problems like back and neck pain, tendonitis, pinched nerves and fibromyalgia.
The physiatrist deals with functional loss and threats to living fully — the physical and psychological disabilities remaining after initial medical or surgical treatment. The physiatrist often coordinates a team of other doctors and health professionals in developing and carrying out a comprehensive rehabilitation plan that extends beyond hospital walls into the patient’s family, community, occupation, friends, and ultimate life style. This rehabilitation team may include physical, occupational, and speech therapies, psychologists, and doctors from various specialties.
In addition to prescribing rehabilitation to improve function physiatrists also use medications and physical medicine techniques such as steroid injections, nerve blocks and botulinum (Botox) toxin injections to improve function. Physiatrists are also trained to do specialized testing such as eletromyograms (EMG’s) that allows localization of peripheral nerve injury for the best diagnosis and treatment.
The physiatrist’s success though comes through a team effort where the patient is an integral part of the team process. Each improvement in function, however subtle, can significantly improve the life of a patient. Their comprehensive approach includes treating the entire patient, not just symptoms. Their broad medical expertise allows them to treat disabling conditions throughout a person’s lifetime.