Physiatrists are experts in long-term prognosis regarding a patient's abilities and independence. Physiatrists focus on questions like whether or not a patient will be able to walk again, to drive a car, to hold a certain type of job, to live independently or to communicate again.

Why Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R)?

Our knowledge in medicine has grown exponentially over the last 150 years to the point that medical specialties have evolved from sheer necessity. With more than 24 core specialties officially recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties and many more subspecialties within those, we are long past the point of having one specialty per body part.

Knowing what kind of specialist takes care of a specific condition is not straightforward anymore. Furthermore, some conditions are so complicated that they require multi-disciplinary teams of physicians working together on the same patient.

With the return of soldiers after the World Wars, the need arose for a specialty that focused on management of long-term complications from multi-trauma as well as the patient's ability to function independently in routine daily activities. Neurology and Neurosurgery simply weren't addressing these long-term needs in patients with traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. In addition, orthopedic surgeons had no further surgical role with these patients once their broken bones or amputations healed. At that point in time, traditional (allopathic) medicine had not embraced physical treatment methods like occupational therapy, speech therapy and therapeutic exercise. However, this changed with the advent of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) as a new specialty for physicians.

Today PM&R physicians, also known as physiatrists, treat a wide variety of medical conditions affecting the nervous system, the musculoskeletal system and any other affected body system that has limited a patient's ability to function independently. Physiatrists are not therapists. They are physicians that fill in the gaps of medical care mentioned above. They, not neurologists, address all aspects of neuro-rehabilitation, including symptoms ranging from weakness, coordination, visual field deficits and slurred speech to cognitive deficits. They focus on the big picture of the patient, which often includes the needs of the caregivers too. They work with large medical teams, families, employers and schools to design comprehensive, customized treatment plans to maximize function and quality of life.

Physiatrists are experts in long-term prognosis regarding a patient's abilities and independence. It is their job to understand the maximum potential of a given patient with disabilities and to help that patient make the most of the skills they have left. Physiatrists focus on questions like whether or not a patient will be able to walk again, to drive a car, to hold a certain type of job, to live independently or to communicate again. These questions require very special training when dealing with patients whose bodies are still developing. Lastly, PM&R physicians work with the latest technology to facilitate reaching all of these goals.

Read Why a Pediatric PM&R Subspecialist.