No, it’s not a spelling error. Physiatry is a legitimate medical specialty, and if your back didn’t hurt so much, you would kick yourself for not knowing what physiatrists do.

What is a Physiatrist?

During and immediately following World War II, there was an urgent need for physicians who could specialize in treating the rehabilitation of U.S. soldiers returning home with severe musculoskeletal issues. Pretty quickly, this practice was renamed physiatry, or Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), and was formally approved as a medical specialty.

Woman sitting on a yoga ball does an overhead stretch with a resistance band while being assisted by a smiling manSome subspecialties in this field include Brain Injury Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Neuromuscular Medicine, Pain Medicine, Spinal Cord Injury Medicine, or Sports Medicine. So most commonly physiatrists help restore function lost through injury, illness, or disabling conditions, as well as treat pain conditions that are sports or spine related. Their goal is to instruct patients how to safely strengthen muscles, stabilize joints, rehabilitate injuries, and increase flexibility. They often work as part of a team of medical professionals, calling upon other physicians, physical and occupational therapists, neurologists, and orthopedic surgeons. 

Why Should I See a Physiatrist?

If you experience musculoskeletal-related pain, weakness, a loss of range of motion, or a decline in function, an evaluation led by a physiatrist is a great first step. Alternatively, a surgeon might refer you to a physiatrist if they feel that you might be able to avoid surgery with alternative treatment, or because your problem is not amenable to a surgical solution.

Some of the most common medical conditions treated by a physiatrist include:

  • Woman makes painful face while leaning on furniture and grasping her lower backNeck and Back Pain
  • Strokes
  • Neuromuscular Disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Herniated disc
  • Sciatica
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Work Injuries
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cancer Rehabilitation
  • Pelvic Floor Disorders
  • Surgery Rehabilitation

What Might Treatment Consist Of?

Just like any other medical specialist, a physiatrist will first do a thorough medical history, and then conduct an assessment of your condition. The goal of treatment is to help patients live a more functional, pain-free life. Optimally, physiatrists will want to tailor treatment for whatever that life looks like, whether you’re into marathon running or just being able to play on the floor with your grandkids.

Some of the diagnostic tests and treatments physiatrists commonly perform include:

  • Hand with electrodes attaches is outspread while another hand holds a medical device to the wrist
    Nerve Conduction Study on a hand

    Therapeutic exercise

  • Prosthetics/Orthotics
  • Pain Medications
  • Electromyography (EMG): a study in which electrodes are attached to the skin or inserted into muscle, and the electrical activity is represented as a visual display 
  • Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS): measures how fast an electrical impulse moves through a nerve
  • Soft tissue Injections
  • Joint or Spine Injections

In addition to treating you themselves, physiatrists often work closely with a team of other specialists in order to provide you with a whole spectrum of care.

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