What is a Physiatrist?

A physiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in a medical field called physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also referred to as “physiatry”. 
A physiatrist restores or optimizes the function of people who have experienced injury or disease of their muscle, bone, joint, and/or nervous system. 
Physiatrists will frequently diagnose and treat patients with the following medical conditions or injuries:
  • Stroke, particularly patients undergoing stroke rehabilitation
  • Spinal cord injury (SCI)
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Neck pain, including whiplash
  • Back pain, including spinal stenosis
  • Sport injuries, including shoulder, hip and knee injuries.
  • Occupational injuries, including repetitive stress injuries (RSI)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Chronic pain
Physiatrists do not perform surgery, but may perform medical procedures to diagnose or treat their patients including:
  • EMG (electromyography) and other neurodiagnostic studies
  • Joint injections
  • Nerve root injections
Physiatrists coordinate medical care with other medical specialties to provide a comprehensive treatment plan. Physiatrists work closely with the following types of providers
  • Surgeons, including orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons
  • Neurologists
  • Physical therapist (PT)
  • Occupational therapists (OT)
  • Others, including speech and vocational therapists

American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Physiatrists in clinical practice may be board-certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The Board consists of nationally recognized leaders in physiatry who establish requirements for board certification and maintenance, including routine board examinations. A physician must pass his/her ABPMR board exams to be board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation. The board certification exam helps the medical specialty maintain high standards of care. As of 2011, there were over 10,000 physicians board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
The Board provides additional sub-specialization in the following fields:
  • Brain injury medicine
  • Hospice and palliative medicine
  • Neuromuscular medicine
  • Pain medicine
  • Pediatric rehabilitation medicine
  • Spinal cord injury medicine
  • Sports medicine

Professional Physiatry Organizations

Physiatrists may belong to one or more of the following professional organizations:
  • The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPMR). The AAPMR is the national medical society representing more than 8,000 physiatrists.
  • The Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) is an organization of 1,200 academic faculty, researchers, and others interested in supporting academic medicine. The AAP publishes the medical journal, American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.
  • The Foundation for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (FPM&R). The mission of the FPM&R is to enhance health and function for patients with disability through research and education in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
  • The American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) is an organization of rehabilitation professionals dedicated to serving people with disabling conditions by supporting research.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is an international organization that includes 45,000 members and certified professionals within the sports medicine field. 

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Last updated: 1/8/2019