What is Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation?
The specialty of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) is not one that many people are immediately familiar with, yet it is one that serves thousands of people every year. Also known as Physiatry, it is sometimes simply referred to as Rehabilitation or Rehab. This specialty focuses on restoring quality of life for patients who are experiencing physical pain or loss of function after a traumatic illness or injury. After major surgery, a car accident, a long illness such as cancer, or a major change to the body (such as the loss of a limb), it is the PM&R physicians who help patients begin to feel better and put the pieces of their life back together again.
PM&R physicians work with patients who have been disabled by pain or the loss of motion or cognition, and they find ways to restore function. They may consult with other physicians such as neurologists, orthopedists, physical therapists, or psychiatrists. PM&R specialists treat the whole person, not specific symptoms or illnesses, and their goal is to help patients lead active and able lives.
One example of services performed by a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician is teaching a patient who just had a leg amputated how to get around the house, use the bathroom, bathe, and care for themselves. A different example might be helping a patient learn how to walk again after a traumatic brain injury. Because there are so many different causes of pain and disability, the list of services provided by PM&R physicians is nearly endless. Generally, services that are provided by a PM&R specialist can fall into one of the following care categories:
Self-care skills (bathing, grooming)
Physical care (feeding, taking medication)
Respiratory care (ventilator care, exercises for lung function)
Cognitive skills (memory, problem solving)
Psychological counseling (adapting to a disability)
Because there are so many options, it can be a very creative specialty. When accidents, pain, or illness cause disability, it is the physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists who are there to give patients their life back.
Orthopedic surgeons, sometimes just called orthopedists, are surgical doctors of the musculoskeletal system. They work to keep your body active and in motion by treating problems with your bones, joints, tendons and muscles. The most frequently treated disorder seen by orthopedic surgeons is osteoarthritis, a common “wear-and-tear” problem where the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down, causing friction and pain. Orthopedic surgeons might also see patients for bone and joint deformities, amputation, infections of the bone and joint, overuse injuries, or nerve compression.
Orthopedic surgeons can order tests such as blood work and x-rays to get a clearer picture of the issue. Depending on the illness or injury, more than one different form of treatment may be used. Treatment may include:
Surgery, such as fusing bones together to increase stability, or replacing a joint
Medication, such as pain medication or steroids to promote healing
Casts, splints, or orthotics (devices such as braces or shoe inserts to support the body)
Physical therapy, a kind of treatment using exercise, stretching, heat, and massage to heal the body
Exercise, stretching, movement, and use of the affected part
Orthopedic surgeons also work to prevent injuries and slow the progression of disease in their patients. They educate patients on ways to prevent future injuries, and they treat illness in order to prevent further damage to bones or joints that may be affected by disease. The goal of an orthopedic surgeon is to help their patients restore movement and regain an active life.
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