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Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) is a medical specialty devoted to the management of injuries or illnesses that affect muscles, bones, joints and nerves. PM&R physicians work closely with other medical specialists addressing the same kinds of health issues (e.g., orthopedic surgeons, rheumatologists, neurologists, etc.), but focusing more on patients' rehabilitation needs and the therapeutic path to higher functioning. This branch of medicine is sometimes also called physiatry, and physicians who practice in this field are known as physiatrists or rehabilitation physicians.

After completing specialty training in PM&R, a physiatrist may decide to pursue additional expertise in subspecialty areas such as these:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Hospice and palliative medicine
  • Neuromuscular medicine
  • Pain medicine
  • Pediatric rehabilitation
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Sports medicine

Physiatrists treat a variety of injuries and illnesses that may involve any area of the body, ranging from chronic pain caused by arthritis of the knee to injuries or illnesses involving the spinal cord or brain. Those physiatrists concentrating their practices on sports medicine may also focus on injury prevention in athletes.

The goal of physiatry is to treat the whole body and to help improve function and performance. To do so, physiatrists assess the injury or illness and work with other members of the health care team to develop a diagnostic and treatment plan tailored to the patient's particular impairment -- not just with the orthopedists, neurologists and rheumatologists mentioned above, but also psychiatrists and psychologists, as well as the speech pathologists and physical and occupational therapists physiatrists frequently supervise in rehabilitation hospitals and departments. A key component of the treatment plan is to optimize function whether or not pain completely disappears, and to work with the patient to lessen the chance for future pain or injury in or to the affected area.

A physiatrist may be consulted if a patient is experiencing pain or limited function as a result of an accident, injury, stroke, surgery or other underlying health condition. They can also assist in the creation of customized exercise programs, and may participate in establishing a diagnosis by performing electromyograms (EMGs) and nerve conduction studies -- tests that measure the electrical activity in nerves and muscles. Finally, while psychiatrists do not perform surgery, many of them carry out specialized procedures that involve injecting anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications into muscles and joints, or into spinal regions affected by herniated discs.

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Chester County Hospital

For more information about physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists on the Medical Staff at Chester County Hospital, call our Physician Referral Service at 800-789-PENN (7366) or visit the Find a Doctor section of our website.

Last Updated: 2/11/2014