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A physiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). A physiatrist specializes in a wide variety of conservative, non-surgical treatments for the musculoskeletal system.
Physiatrists complete four years of graduate medical education and four additional years of residency training. Residency training includes one year spent developing fundamental clinical skills and three additional years of training in the full scope of the specialty. Many physiatrists choose to pursue additional advanced degrees (M.S., Ph.D.) or complete fellowship training in a specific specialty area such as spine medicine/musculoskeletal rehabilitation/pain management.
To become board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, physiatrists are required to pass both a written and oral examination administered by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPM&R).
Physiatrists diagnose and treat both acute and chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders. They can order and interpret all types of spine imaging (x-ray, CT myelogram, MRI, bone scan) and perform specialized nerve tests (EMG and NCV) to help assess the location and severity of nerve damage. They commonly treat patients with any kind of back or neck pain, work or sports-related injuries, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, arthritis, tendonitis, spinal cord injuries. Typical treatments may include:
- Physical therapy (e.g. exercise, stretching, heat/ice, TENS units)
- Prescription medications
- Electromyographic studies
- Interventional procedures (e.g., epidurals, joint injections, discograms)
Physiatrists have varying degrees of specialization and may practice in rehabilitation centers, hospitals or private practice, and often practice as part of an integrated spine treatment center. They focus on keeping individuals as functional as possible and work to coordinate patient care. For more information, visit aapmr.org.