What is a Physiatrist?

Mar 24, 2023
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Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also known as physiatry is a medical specialty that emphasizes the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of people disabled by disease, disorder or injury.

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also known as physiatry or rehabilitation medicine, aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to those with physical impairments or disabilities affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. A physician having completed training in this field is referred to as a Physiatrist. Unlike other medical specialties our focus is on a medical “cure,” with the goal of maximizing the patients’ independence in activities of daily living and improving quality of life. We focus on the patient as a whole person, not just one area of the body.

Education and Training

In addition to a medical school degree (MD or DO), a written and oral exam to become PM&R certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation are required.  Many pursue additional subspecialty training and certification by completing a fellowship in that specialty. These certifications can be in fields such as:

  • Brain injury medicine
  • Electrodiagnostics
  • Hospice and palliative medicine
  • Neuromuscular medicine
  • Pain medicine
  • Pediatric rehabilitation medicine
  • Spinal cord injury medicine
  • Sports medicine

I personally completed fellowship training in Sports medicine and electrodiagnostics at Michigan State University.  

What Does a PM&R Physician Do?

Physiatrists are experts in designing comprehensive, patient-centered treatment plans to help our patients physically, socially, emotionally, and vocationally. We utilize cutting-edge as well as time-tested treatments to maximize function and quality of life for our patients, who can range in age from infants to octogenarians.

Physiatrists can address physical medical conditions affecting any area of the body. We’ll check on your condition, needs, and goals; make sure there isn’t a serious medical reason for the issues you’re having, and design a treatment plan to help you reach your goals.

Why See a PM&R Physician?

If you have had physical trauma, pain, or problems with movement, consider visiting a Physiatrist. If you have pain or discomfort from chronic health conditions, aging-related mobility issues, or short-term pain from an injury a Physiatrist will design a treatment plan to improve your quality of life.

Quite simply you may benefit from seeing a physiatrist if: 

  • You Struggle with Everyday Activities - accidents or injuries sometimes leave us with pain or limited function, impacting normal activities like getting up, taking the stairs, or resting comfortably. A physiatrist can help design a treatment plan to overcome these issues. They can also help manage ongoing discomfort caused by specific issues like back pain, obesity, nerve damage, stroke and arthritis.
  • You Have Limited Energy Due to Illness - many illnesses and their treatments can cause limited energy. Fatigue can make it more difficult for you to move easily, avoid injury, or reach your exercise goals.
  • You Have a Scheduled Surgery or are in Recovery from Surgery - surgery is traumatic for your body. Building a surgical plan with a physiatrist can prepare your body and streamline your path to recovery.
  • You’re Going Through a Life Change - life changes like pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and aging can create new challenges to physical function. 

What to Expect at the Physiatrist Consultation

At your first appointment, the doctor will speak to you about your medical and family history to learn more about what may be causing a problem. 

You’ll be asked to voice your goals for treatment, whether that’s relieving back pain or strengthening muscle performance. Physiatrists work to help you overcome personal setbacks keeping you from living a full life — and what that means to an individual patient guides the best course of treatment.  

If a diagnosis is needed, the doctor may run tests like X-rays, nerve conduction studies and diagnostic ultrasound to identify the cause of a problem, informing the next steps for a recovery plan. They also look at your holistic health to work around — and improve symptoms of — underlying conditions like diabetes or arthritis. 

This approach guides tailored treatment options like:

  • At-home programs  
  • Specialized treatment to be carried out by a specialist, like a physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon
  • Mental health care to help you cope with a condition and respond to treatment
  • Alternative therapies like medical acupuncture or chiropractic care

Physiatrists may also offer in-office injections including: 

  • Joint and trigger point injections to treat pain-causing bone and soft tissue disorders
  • Injections that treat central nervous system-related pain
  • Spinal therapeutics that can relieve back pain
  • Viscosupplementation injections for joint pain
  • Orthobiologic injections to promote natural healing and repair of muscle, ligament, tendon or bony injury

Here at Regenerative Medicine of Iowa we manage many types of physical problems, and help you stay as active as possible at any age.  To find out more, schedule a free introductory call or consultation.