What's Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation?


1.) What is PM&R, and how does it differ from other medical specialties?

PM&R is physical medicine and rehabilitation. It is a specialty that addresses physical answers to medical conditions and improving functional ability. PM&R may use physical means to address medical problems, for example a physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation) when treating low back pain will typically look into details as to how the pain started (ergonomics in the work place, imbalances in posture, strength or flexibility deficits, etc.), and develop a plan of care using physical measures such as physical therapy, exercise and muscle energy techniques so the patient can learn how to use their own measures to help their condition.

2.) What conditions or injuries does a PM&R physician treat?

PM&R is a broad field.  In the outpatient setting a physiatrist sees patients with a variety of musculoskeletal issues resulting in pain, weakness, spasticity, and other problems affecting loss of functional abilities, such as low back pain, neck pain, joint pain, neuropathy etc.  In the inpatient setting a physiatrist may treat people with traumatic or non-traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and a host of other underlying medical conditions producing weakness and deficits in self-care and mobility. The physiatrist leads the team of healthcare professionals in this setting including physical, occupational and speech therapists when necessary, as well as nursing, behavioral health, and case managers to provide comprehensive medical rehabilitation care.

3.) Why would someone benefit from seeing a PM&R physician versus another type of physician?

Anyone with musculoskeletal and neurological problems interfering with their function would benefit from seeing a PM&R physician because these specialists not only diagnose the problems but come up with custom treatment plans focusing on improving function.

4.) How does PM&R address both the physical and functional aspects of someone’s health?

These elements are combined in the treatment plan. For example in treating a patient with low back pain the physiatrist not only diagnoses what is wrong specifically, he or she will also address the underlying physical reasons (which may be strength or flexibility issues, medical conditions such as osteoporosis, disc disease, etc.) and finally also address the functional outcomes with goals of improvement (such as walking tolerance, ability to carry out household duties etc.)

5.) Musculoskeletal disorders commonly are associated with pain.How does the PM&R physician’s approach differ from other medical specialties?

PM&R physicians commonly treat pain. In fact there are sub-specialty board certifications that physiatrists can earn in pain medicine and many of our SIMEDHealth physiatrists have this special board certification. A pain medicine physiatrist may use traditional techniques such as medication and injection management to relieve pain but also focus on the functional gain with these treatments (after an epidural injection and start of a medication regimen, was the patient able to get back to function better at their job?) Also physiatrists commonly use a broad team perspective in treating pain such as including elements of therapy, counseling, acupuncture and other measures which can make the whole plan more successful. PM&R physicians use all the traditional measures available to treat pain while considering functional improvement as the goal.


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