About Physiatry

About Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

What is Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation?

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also known as physiatry or rehabilitation medicine, aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to those with physical impairments or disabilities affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. A physician having completed training in this field is referred to as a physiatrist. Unlike other medical specialties that focus on a medical “cure,” the goals of the physiatrist are to maximize patients’ independence in activities of daily living and improve quality of life.

Physiatrists are experts in designing comprehensive, patient-centered treatment plans, and are integral members of the care team. They utilize cutting-edge as well as time-tested treatments to maximize function and quality of life for their patients, who can range in age from infants to octogenarians.

Practice Settings

PM&R physicians practice in a variety of clinical settings, including inpatient and outpatient facilities. They have a broad range of knowledge including musculoskeletal, neurological, rheumatological and cardiovascular systems.

Some of the common diagnoses and populations seen by inpatient physiatrists include spinal cord injury, brain injury (traumatic and non-traumatic), stroke, multiple sclerosis, polio, burn care, and musculoskeletal and pediatric rehabilitation. Inpatient physiatrists are often trained using collaborative team skills and work with social workers and other allied health therapists (e.g., physical, occupational and speech) to manage these issues.

Outpatient physiatrists manage nonsurgical conditions including orthopaedic injuries, spine-related pain and dysfunction, occupational injuries and overuse syndromes, neurogenic bowel/bladder, pressure sore management, spasticity management, and chronic pain. Outpatient physiatrists are typically found in multidisciplinary groups consisting of other physiatrists, orthopaedic surgeons and/or neurosurgeons.

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2011 Congressional Hearing

Academy member Gerard E. Francisco, MD, who represented AAPM&R at a Capitol Hill briefing on the value of rehabilitation on June 23, 2011 comments on the importance of rehabilitation in US health care. Dr. Francisco is chief medical officer at TIRR Memorial Hermann and attending rehabilitation physician for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. AAPM&R sponsored the event.