Rehabilitation Medicine - What we do
Frequently Asked Questions About Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

What is physical medicine and rehabilitation?

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also called physiatry, is the branch of medicine emphasizing the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders-particularly related to the nerves, muscles, and bones that may produce temporary or even permanent impairment. PM&R is one of the 24 medical specialties certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties. PM&R provides integrated care in the treatment of conditions related to the brain, muscles, and bones, from traumatic brain injury and lower back pain.

What is a rehabilitation physician?

Rehabilitation physicians are nerve, muscle, and bone experts who treat injuries or illnesses that affect how you move. Rehabilitation physicians have completed training in the medical specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). They are sometimes referred to as PM&R physicians or physiatrists.

Rehabilitation physicians treat a wide range of problems from sore shoulders to spinal cord injuries. Their goal is to decrease pain and enhance performance without surgery.

How do rehabilitation physicians diagnose?

Rehabilitation physicians take the time needed to accurately pinpoint the source of an ailment. Their specific diagnostic tools are the same as those used by other physicians (medical histories, physical examinations, and imaging studies), with the addition of special techniques in electrodiagnostic medicine such as electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies, and somatosensory evoked potentials. These techniques help the rehabilitation physician to diagnose conditions that cause pain, weakness, and numbness.

What is the rehabilitation physician's role in treatment?

Once a diagnosis is established, rehabilitation physicians design a treatment plan that can be carried out by the patients themselves or with the help of the rehabilitation physician's medical team. This interdisciplinary medical team may include medical professionals such as neurologists, psychiatrists/psychologists, orthopaedic surgeons, and urologists. Rehabilitation Physicians also work with allied health professionals including physical therapists, speech pathologists, vocational counselors, and social workers. The team is different for each patient, and the team's composition may change during treatment to match the patient's shifting needs. By providing an appropriate treatment plan, rehabilitation physicians help patients stay as active as possible at any age. Their broad medical expertise allows them to treat disabling conditions throughout a person's lifetime.

What is the scope of the rehabilitation physicians' practice?

PM&R is often called the quality of life profession because its aim is to enhance patient performance. The job of a rehabilitation physician is to treat any disability resulting from disease or injury involving just about any organ system. The focus is not on one part of the body, but instead on the development of a comprehensive program for putting the pieces of a person's life back together-medically, socially, emotionally, and vocationally-after injury or disease. The problems that rehabilitation physicians manage span the entire spectrum, from the most complicated multiple trauma to injury prevention for athletes. Some rehabilitation physicians have broad-based practices that encompass many different types of patients.

Some of the conditions that rehabilitation physicians treat may include severe musculoskeletal injuries, low back pain, neck pain, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and chronic pain. Many patients come to rehabilitation physicians after they have sustained traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, sports and even work-related injuries.

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