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What Are Physiatrists and What Do They Treat?

There are many types of doctors practicing all over the country, and they all serve a very specific purpose. We often get asked what exactly physiatrists do, how they serve their patients, and how they differ from physical therapists and other specialists. We wanted to take some time to answer these questions, explore how physiatry is used to treat ailments, and highlight some benefits physiatry brings to the medical field.

How Do Physiatrists Differ from Other Doctors?

Physiatrists, otherwise known as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation doctors, are trained to diagnose the root cause of unknown pain and develop a holistic treatment plan that treats the entire person. Rather than focusing on one problem area, physiatrists look at the root cause of the problem and seek to increase quality of life and mobility.

While most physicians specialize in a particular area, physiatrists specialize in the whole body, utilizing multiple disciplines and expertise within each field to treat the whole patient and solve whatever acute and localized issues they have in the process.

What Do Physiatrists Treat?

Physiatrists are trained to treat a wide range of issues, including neuromuscular problems, brain injuries, spinal cord issues, pain problems, sports injuries, and more. Anything involving the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, brain, and spinal cord are all conditions that physiatrists are trained to treat. Their focus is on lifetime mobility and rehabilitation. Below are common issues physiatrists treat:

  • Back/neck pain
  • Stroke
  • Neuromuscular disorders, such as:
    • ALS
    • Muscular dystrophy
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Myopathy
    • Charot-Marie-Tooth disease
    • Myasthenia gravis
    • Etc.
  • Brain injuries
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cancer rehabilitation
  • Nerve issues, such as sciatica

Physiatrists and Integrated Medical Care

Physiatrists are trained in rehabilitation and in medicine, allowing them to pull from a variety of sources and expertise to treat patients. Their goal is lifelong mobility and pain management in the face of disorders or trauma. In order to treat their patients holistically, physiatrists often work with experts and doctors outside of their office, leading teams that are multi-faceted and effective. In order to optimize care for their patients, physiatrists often work with:

  • Occupational therapists
  • Physical therapists
  • Primary care physicians
  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Neurologists
  • Rheumatologists

By working closely with other specialists, physiatrists can offer their patients a variety of opinions and treatments that are integrated and streamlined. This is much preferred over the disjointed care patients sometimes receive when these specialists are employed separate from each other, without an umbrella treatment plan.

What Methods Do Physiatrists Use?

Physiatrists employ a variety of methods to treat their patients, and are skilled in a broad area of medicine, allowing them to treat a person throughout their lifetime. Their focus is on mobility, function, and rehabilitation. They can diagnose as well as treat and are varied in the methods they use. Below are a few examples of treatment options and procedures that may be used by your physiatrist:

  • Spinal injections
  • Nerve stimulators
  • Prolotherapy
  • Joint injections
  • Biopsies of nerves and muscles
  • EMG’s
  • Ultrasound
  • Prosthetics
  • Acupuncture
  • Osteopathic treatment

By employing a wide range of methods and by working with various experts, physiatrists are able to provide interdisciplinary care that treats the whole person, increasing longevity and mobility throughout the patient’s life. In addition to the treatment and diagnostic options listed above, physiatrists are proactive in continuing their education throughout their career, bringing new and innovative treatments to their practices.

What Kind of Education Do Physiatrists Receive?

A physiatrist starts their education by first obtaining a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. While it is common to take a pre-med track, some students choose a different major instead. After obtaining their bachelor’s degree, physiatrists go on to another four years of medical school where they study anatomy and physiology, histology, and pathology.

There are two different tracks for doctors: M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy). Osteopathic medicine focuses more on whole-body treatment and care, which lines up nicely with the goal and focus of physiatrists. Because of this, there are more D.O.s in physiatry than there are in any other specialty area of medicine.

After obtaining both an undergraduate degree and a medical degree, physiatrists go on to complete four years of residency where they practice medicine under the close supervision of a licensed doctor. The first year of residency is spent learning about internal medicine, and they focus their last three years on physical medicine and rehabilitation.

After this final stretch, any aspiring physiatrist must pass a board examination.

It takes approximately 12 years to become a physiatrist. They are well trained and more than adequately prepared to treat patients with a wide range of diseases and ailments.

Why Should You Consider Using a Physiatrist?

The story is the same, and many of us have heard it before. A patient is diagnosed with a type of trauma or disease, usually being referred to a doctor. The disorder is multifaceted and requires an interdisciplinary approach, which is hard to pursue under a common doctor/referral/specialist mindset. The patient experiences frustration with the discontinuity of care and feels lost with the lack of options. It’s a common problem that individuals experience on a regular basis.

Contrast this with the option of seeing a physiatrist, one who has been trained in both internal medicine and physical rehabilitation, has practiced his/her skill under close supervision, and has been taught the importance of holistic, interdisciplinary care. The results are vastly different.

An integrated approach to medicine is one that takes into account the entire person, understands the hurdles that an individual faces daily, and informs the doctor about how to best treat and serve the individual.

In Conclusion

If you have any issues you would like to evaluate, or find yourself in need of rehabilitation or holistic care, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our facility here at Rocky Mountain Spine & Sport. We would love to sit down with you and discuss your options, help you develop a treatment plan that works long-term, and get you on a path toward optimal health.