What Does a Physiatrist Do?
OCTOBER 22, 2018
If you've ever made a doctor's appointment for a pain condition, you may already be familiar with physiatry, the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Physiatrists specialize in non-surgical care for conditions—particularly nerve, muscle and bone disorders—that cause pain and impair normal, everyday functions.Anthony Lee, MD
Compared to many medical specialties, physiatry is a relatively new discipline. During World War II, physiatrists were asked to supervise the rehabilitation of U.S. soldiers returning home with severe musculoskeletal issues. Soon after, physiatry was formally approved as a medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties.
Today, physiatrists are residency-trained in physical medicine and rehabilitation. They help restore function lost through injury, illness or disabling conditions. They can also help treat pain conditions as well as sports and spine-related injuries.
"Physiatrists specialize in non-surgical care for conditions — particularly nerve, muscle and bone disorders — that cause pain and impair normal, everyday functions," says Anthony Lee, MD, a physiatrist at BIDMC.
Physiatrists are dedicated to treating the whole person. "Medical issues causing pain can affect a patient's mobility, mood and overall quality of life," says Lee. "We are trained to not only address the physical symptoms of pain, but also the emotional and every day issues that arise because of a health condition."
"We work to educate our patients about their diagnosis and coordinate a plan of care as part of a shared decision-making process,"Lee adds. "This is often a multidisciplinary approach, sometimes including physical therapists, occupational therapists and other rehab specialists."
At BIDMC, physiatrists treat patients with a variety of ailments, such as migraines, back pain, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, Lyme disease and stroke.
Treatment is focused on reducing pain, increasing mobility and improving quality of life. It may include one or more of the following:
- Administering minimally invasive injections to the joints, nerves or other areas of pain
- Establishing a physical therapy plan
- Prescribing and managing a medication plan
- Referring to integrative therapies, such as acupuncture or tai chi
"We work closely with integrated health providers at BIDMC to refer patients who might benefit from integrative therapies," Lee says.
BIDMC's Arnold-Warfield Pain Center offers a variety of advanced therapies techniques.