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A physiatrist is a doctor that specializes in rehabilitative medicine. In particular, they help patients recover from illnesses and injuries affecting the nerves, bones and muscles. They also play an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of pain, as well as the underlying causes of pain.

Physiatrists take a whole-body approach to injury recovery, meaning that they don’t just focus on the injured area, but also on how that area interacts with the rest of the body. They have strong backgrounds in kinesiology and can teach patients how to make impactful modifications that will improve their overall health and reduce the possibility of future injury.

You are likely to be referred to a physiatrist if you have suffered a permanently disabling impairment as the result of an injury or disease for which there is no known cure, or from which a full recovery is unlikely or impossible. In such cases, your physiatrist will focus on helping you adapt to your new situation and keep a positive mindset.

Conditions Treated by Physiatrists

There are seven major classes of illnesses and injuries that physiatrists treat. They are:

  • Neurorehabilitation. Illnesses and injuries like stroke, spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis frequently result in physical and cognitive impediments. Physiatrists treat these impediments, helping the patient recover as much lost capability as possible.
  • Postoperative care. Certain major surgeries require extended recovery periods, during which the patient must learn new skills. Examples include joint replacement surgery, organ transplants, lung surgery, heart surgery, and ventricular assistive device surgery. Physiatrists teach patients how to adapt to their new situation as they recover from the procedure.
  • Pediatric disorders. Children who have certain functional or developmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome or spina bifida, need specialized care in order to improve their quality of life.
  • Musculoskeletal injuries. Physiatrists are often involved in the care and management of diseases including osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic back pain and joint pain.
  • Sports injuries. Physiatrists work closely with sports medicine specialists to treat stress fractures, concussions, tendonitis, pathologies of the rotator cuff, and a wide range of other injuries and disorders resulting from high-level participation in sports.
  • Specialized patient rehab. Patients who have highly specialized rehabilitation needs may be referred to a physiatrists. Examples include fine arts performers such as dancers who have suffered repetitive stress injuries, cancer patients, palliative patients, and organ transplant patients. Physiatrists may also help train family members who are preparing to care at home for a family member who has suffered a serious injury, permanent disability, or is recovering from a major surgical procedure.
  • Pain medicine. Physiatrists also treat conditions such as chronic pain syndrome, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back pain, fibromyalgia and complex regional pain syndrome, among other pain-related conditions.

While physiatrists are able to prescribe medications, they tend to take more of a physiological approach to pain management. In other words, they will address and resolve the underlying damage to the body to the greatest possible degree as a means of reducing pain in their patients. Thus, they make a good choice if you have a complicated underlying condition that is resulting in lingering or chronic pain, or if you are looking for a treatment approach which is less reliant on drugs.

Many physiatrists work closely with physical therapists to treat their patients. Physical therapists are medical professionals who specialize in bodily kinetics, and they use techniques including strengthening exercises and movement modifications to help patients recover from injuries, strengthen their bodies, reduce their injury proneness, and enjoy long-term improvements in their quality of life.

Pain Specialists