In a prior personal injury blog post, I discussed the differences between a chiropractor vs. physical therapist vs. orthopedic doctor, when dealing with spinal cord injuries, but I did not discuss another important orthopedic-injury-related medical professional, that being a physiatrist. What is a physiatrist?
A physiatrist is a non-surgical medical doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), often called physiatry. In other words, a physiatrist is the medical professional who focuses all their attention on the diagnosis and treatment of a physical disability (often spinal cord injuries). A board certified physiatrist will have received the designation of Diplomate from the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Physiatrists are adept at using their expertise in the musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves) to correctly diagnose an injured party’s ailment and quarterback an effective treatment plan utilizing the appropriate combination of physical therapy and medications to maximize one’s prognosis.
A physiatrist will utilize a wide array of injury diagnostic tools to assess their patient, including: MRIs, x-rays, electromyography, nerve conduction velocity tests, x-rays/CT scans + more.
The physiatrist’s goal: for their patient to live with as little pain as possible with the maximum amount of bodily function. This may involve drawing on other medical professionals’ expertise by leading a team of specialists as needed, including: orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, neurologists, psychologists, counselors, occupational therapists and more.
In this sense, a physiatrist takes a holistic approach – maximizing their patient’s quality of life means treating every aspect of the person, not just the particular injury.
After the doctors and therapy centers have done all they can – a physiatrist will put together a comprehensive home-care program for the disabled patient to continue with in order to further his/her progress. This may include recommending home therapy equipment that focus on improving balance, strength, posture, coordination, mobility; sometimes even mental function, swallowing, seeing, hearing + more, depending on the type and extent of the injury/disability.