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What Does a Physiatrist Do

The Medical Student's Guide to PM&R

Physiatrists maximize what a patient can do and assist the patient in adapting to what he or she cannot. A physiatrist should be consulted when pain, weakness, or disability is preventing a patient from achieving their desired level of independence.

  • Physiatrists work in a variety of environments including inpatient, outpatient, and consulting roles. They can practice solo, in groups, and academic settings. Physiatrists can work along the entire spectrum of patient care, from acute care hospitals, sub-acute facilities such as inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, long-term acute care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and outpatient clinics.
  • To maximize function, physiatrists use a variety of techniques including medications, injections, modalities, therapeutic exercise, prosthetics / orthotics, cognitive therapy and adaptive devices to treat patients of all ages.
  • Physiatrists facilitate physiologic adaptation to disability to prevent complications or deterioration secondary to disabling conditions.
  • Physiatrists may use musculoskeletal ultrasound and electrodiagnostics to help aid in the diagnosis of complex neurologic or musculoskeletal injuries.
  • The goal of the physiatrist is to provide medical care to patients with pain, weakness, numbness, flaccidity, spasticity and loss of function so that they can maximize their physical, biological, psychological, social, and vocational potential.

As people survive conditions that once would have been fatal, the field of physiatry is moving to the forefront of medicine. The specialty serves all age groups and treats problems that touch upon all major systems of the body.