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.