What is a Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Doctor?

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) is a medical subspecialty that involves the nonsurgical management of injuries and disorders. Physiatrists, or rehabilitation doctors, and PM&R specialists are experts who diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses that affect how you move. The physiatric approach to patient care looks at the whole person and not just one symptom or condition.

For people who are managing a wide range of physical disabilities or diseases or who have sustained a serious injury, therapy offered by a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor is often recommended.  A physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, also called a physiatrist or PM&R doctor, is not there to “cure” a patient but can help that person in a variety of ways, focusing on the best ways to help them improve function—from prescribing medications to administering pain injections to using other technology, such spinal cord stimulation. These treatments, when delivered by a skilled and knowledgeable physiatrist, often result in less pain and an increased ability to perform daily activities. If a patient requires surgery, the physiatrist will not perform the surgery him- or herself but instead will refer the patient to a specialist or surgeon who can help.

When You Should Visit a PM&R Doctor Near You

Symptoms offer clues to your condition. If you are experiencing any of the following, you should make an appointment with a doctor to have them assessed:

  • Muscle spasms, shooting pain, or pain that comes on unexpectedly
  • Muscle weakness that is affecting your ability to do daily tasks
  • Ongoing pain after the initial injury or an auto accident
  • Ongoing pain after surgery or a medical treatment
  • Tingling, pins, and needles, or numbness in a limb or limbs
  • Upper, mid, or lower chronic back pain

If you are currently experiencing any of these issues, you may be suffering from one of the following injuries or conditions that can be treated by our expertly trained physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors:

  • Arthritis
  • Head and brain injuries
  • Injury of spinal cord or column
  • Movement disorders
  • Pinched nerves or dysfunction of the nerves
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Stroke

What Does a PM&R Physician Do?

PM&R physicians can address physical medical conditions affecting any area of the body.

PM&R physicians design treatment plans for people of any age. They’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.

Education and Training

PM&R physicians are medical doctors who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation. In addition to their medical school degree, many of them have subspecialty certifications. These certifications can be in fields such as:

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

To become a PM&R physician, the following requirements must be met:

  • A four-year medical school degree
  • Four years of postdoctoral physical medicine and rehabilitation residency
  • One year of fundamental clinical skills
  • Three years of training in their specialty

PM&R physicians who pursue a subspecialty also do a fellowship in that specialty. They must take a written and oral exam to become PM&R certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

What Conditions Does a PM&R Physician Treat?

PM&R physicians treat problems that happen because of injury, illness, or chronic conditions. The most common treatments include:

  • Medical rehabilitation
  • Pain-neuromuscular medicine rehabilitation
  • Musculoskeletal medicine
  • Rehabilitation of central nervous system disorders
  • Pediatric rehabilitation

The two major components a PM&R physician specializes in are physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Physical Medicine

PM&R physicians develop a comprehensive program to help their patients physically, socially, emotionally, and vocationally. They manage many types of physical problems and help you stay as active as possible at any age.

If you have had physical trauma, PM&R physicians may prescribe braces or splints to improve your arm or leg position or function, prosthetics for limb loss, or equipment to help you move more safely. This equipment can include tools such as wheelchairs, standers, walkers, bath benches, or lifts.

Rehabilitation

PM&R physicians can prescribe medication for muscle or nerve problems, attention and memory issues, respiratory or gastrointestinal issues, and behavior, sleep, or pain concerns, among many more medical problems. 

Reasons to See a PM&R Physician

If you have had physical trauma, pain, or problems with movement, visiting a PM&R physician might be your next step.

They can diagnose and treat issues medical conditions related to disabilities, including:

  • Cognitive problems
  • Orthopedic issues
  • Mobility concerns
  • Bowel and bladder problems
  • Disorders that affect your walking
  • Feeding and swallowing problems
  • Trouble with communication
  • Pain
  • Muscle stiffness or poor muscle tone

You might also consider seeing a PM&R physician if:

  • You need rehabilitation after an injury, illness, or surgery;
  • You have chronic pain
  • Obesity or aging has made it harder for you to be physically active.

A PM&R physician may work with a team of neurologists, orthopedists, neurosurgeons, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and primary care doctors, depending on what you need. 

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