Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also called physiatry, is the branch of medicine emphasizing the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders – particularly related to the nerves, muscles, and bones – that may produce temporary or permanent impairment. PM&R is one of the 24 medical specialties certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties. PM&R provides integrated care in the treatment of conditions related to the brain, muscles, and bones, spanning from traumatic brain injury to lower back pain.
PM&R is often called the quality of life profession because its aim is to enhance patient performance. These specialists treat any disability resulting from disease or injury involving any organ system. The focus is not on one part of the body, but instead on the development of a comprehensive program for putting the pieces of a person’s life back together – medically, socially, emotionally, and vocationally – after injury or disease. Rehabilitation physicians manage issues that span the entire spectrum, from complicated multiple trauma to injury prevention for athletes. Some rehabilitation physicians have broad-based practices that encompass many different types of patients. Others pursue special interests and focus on specific groups or problems. For example, sports medicine has grown as a special interest. Rehabilitation physicians who focus on sports medicine treat sports-related injuries, develop programs to help athletes avoid injury, and may do research in the field.
Rehabilitation physicians take the time needed to accurately pinpoint the source of an ailment. Their specific diagnostic tools are the same as those used by other physicians (medical histories, physical examinations, and imaging studies), with the addition of special techniques in electrodiagnostic medicine like electromyography and nerve conduction studies. These techniques help the rehabilitation physician to diagnose conditions that cause pain, weakness, and numbness.
Once they have a diagnosis, rehabilitation physicians design a treatment plan that can be carried out by the patients themselves or with the help of the rehabilitation physician’s medical team. This interdisciplinary medical team may include medical professionals such as neurologists, psychiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, and urologists, and non-physician health professionals such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, vocational counselors, psychologists and social workers. The team is different for each patient, and the team’s composition changes during treatment to match the patient’s shifting needs. By providing an appropriate treatment plan, rehabilitation physicians help patients stay as active as possible at any age. Their broad medical expertise allows them to treat disabling conditions throughout a person’s lifetime.
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