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What is a Physiatrist?

Physiatrists are also known as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians. Physiatrists are typically Board Certified and specialize in the non-surgical treatment of brain, spinal and musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. Not to be confused with a Psychiatrist, which specialized in the treatment of mental health issues – a Physiatrist is a physician that has subspecialty training in orthopedics, neurology, and pain management.

Unlike an orthopedist, a Physiatrist does not perform surgery but strives to increase movement and function while simultaneously treating pain. While some patients do go on to require surgery, the majority of patients do well without surgery and benefit from a reduced recovery time.

Some of the non-surgical treatments provided by Physiatrists include: physical therapy, exercise management, massage, acupuncture, and very specific injections to help restore function and decrease pain in joints located in the neck, back, hip, should, knee, elbow, wrist, and ankle. The majority of the time, injections are done in a suite in a hospital where real-time x-ray or ultrasound is used to confirm the correct needle placement in order to ensure patient safety and improve patient outcomes.

Physiatrists are expert diagnosticians, meaning they are experts in locating “where” the pain is coming from. Typically, finding what is called the “pain generator,” requires a combination of detailed medical history, comprehensive physical examination, and in many cases, some type of diagnostic imaging such as x-ray or MRI.

Like other doctors, Physiatrists prescribe pain medications during a patient’s rehabilitation. However, medications, especially narcotics, are only one component in helping restore function and may be used in combination with physical therapy, exercise, or other interventions to effectively decrease pain.