Physical medicine & rehabilitation specialists, or physiatrists, provide rehabilitative care for those with physical deficiencies or disabilities as a result of injury or disease, maximizing quality of life.
Physical medicine & rehabilitation specialists, also known as physiatrists, diagnose and treat a variety of injuries resulting from complications of the neuromusculoskeletal system (muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, joints, and nervous system). Physiatrists treat in many settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and private practices; some may even treat in residential settings for those who have limited mobility (including the recently injured and elderly).
The goal of physiatry is to restore physical function in patients that has been lost through physical injury, illness, or other incapacitating conditions. Physiatrists may diagnose and prescribe treatment for sports injuries, non-sports-related injuries, chronic pain, arthritis, and occupational injuries, among others. Physiatrists prescribe and employ many treatment techniques that culminate in a comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation plan, which may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, muscle and nerve stimulation treatments, heat or cold therapy, and many other non-surgical techniques.
Many physiatrists will often organize and direct a multidisciplinary medical team when providing physical medicine & rehabilitation services, diagnosing the patient’s complications and then crafting a personalized rehabilitation plan. Physiatrists do not always provide the actual physical therapy, but may prescribe the therapies or treatments necessary and refer patients to a physical therapist (oftentimes within their own practice).
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Education & Training
The education and training to become a physical medicine physician, or physiatrist, requires three years of post-doctorate residency training before the physician is qualified to practice in the specialty. Physical medicine doctors must first complete a bachelor’s degree before entering medical school. After earning an MD or DO degree from an accredited medical school, the physician must complete a one year internship before participating in a three year residency program.
By entering into one of the accredited physical medicine and rehabilitation residency programs throughout the United States, the physician will learn the proper diagnostic and treatment techniques while under the supervision of licensed, trained physiatrists and other physicians. During residency training, the physician will gain clinical expertise in the provision of inpatient and outpatient care for injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Some physiatrists may choose to further specialize by completing a two to three year fellowship in areas such as: neuromuscular and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, pediatrics, sports medicine, pain management, geriatrics, or neurology, among other areas.
After completing the requisite training and education, many physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians pursue board certification from the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; subspecialty certifications are also available for physicians who have completed the additional training and educational requirements. To provide physical medicine and rehabilitation, physiatrists must receive a medical license from the state(s) in which they provide care.