Developed in 1938 and expanded in use during World War II, physiatry is a branch of medicine that specializes in non-surgical physical medicine and rehabilitation. The goal of physiatry is the restoration of optimal function, reduction of pain, and improvement of quality of life—both physically and emotionally.
Practitioners of physiatry—called physiatrists—are medical doctors who diagnose and treat patients of all ages who suffer from musculoskeletal issues—diseases, disorders, injuries, and severe impairments affecting bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves.
Conditions that fall under the scope of physiatry include spinal cord injury, back pain, amputation, and sports injury. Burn and stroke victims, and patients with heart or lung disease, also benefit from physiatry.
A physiatrist begins the diagnosis process by taking a complete patient history and performing a physical exam. The use of X-rays, MRIs, and electromyography to determine a patient’s nerve and muscle function is also an important part of developing the treatment plan.
Physiatry treatment focuses on the whole patient and may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychology, neurology, assistive devices, and the services of athletic trainers or social workers to provide a comprehensive rehabilitation. This non-surgical method of treatment can also be used in conjunction with surgical approaches, such as orthopedic surgery or neurosurgery.