A physiatrist helped Laura Benson of Orefield recover from back pain. Now she’s an active student at the University of Pittsburgh.
1. It’s pronounced fizz-EYE-a-trist.
Though you may not have heard of this medical specialty, physiatrists – MDs and DOs certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation – can play an important role in treating physical disabilities caused by injury or illness. If you or someone you know suffers from movement problems or pain, seeing a physiatrist may help.
2. They look at the big picture.
“Our goal is to restore physical function in patients with bone, muscle, or nerve injuries or diseases – everything from strokes and brain injuries to low back pain and knee stiffness, ” says Lehigh Valley Health Network physiatrist Chirag Kalola, MD, with the Advanced Spine Center. Physiatrists differ from other specialists because they focus on the entire body rather than just one organ, such as the heart. This head-to-toe approach can be particularly helpful for hard-to-diagnose problems like spine pain, which may becaused by anything from muscle strain to osteoarthritis. “We often notice things that are being overlooked, ” Kalola says.
3. They work as part of a team.
After developing a detailed treatment plan, physiatrists put together a team of practitioners (such as physical therapists, speech pathologists and vocational counselors) to help each patient medically, emotionally, socially and career-wise.
4. They use nonsurgical treatments.
These may include pain medications, steroid injections, strengthening exercises, stretching and assistive devices, such as braces and wheelchairs. “Just because a doctor says you have a herniated disk or arthritis in your knee doesn’t mean you need surgery, ” Kalola says. “Most patients with physical limitations can be treated with conservative approaches that have a lower risk for complications.” And if you do need surgery, working with a physiatrist before and after can help speed your recovery.
5. They tailor treatments to your needs.
Whether arthritis keeps you from gardening or a knee injury has sidelined your daughter from the lacrosse team, a physiatrist creates a custom treatment plan to help you enjoy your favorite activities again. “We restore physical function as it relates to each individual, whether that means going back to work, playing golf or getting out with the grandkids, ” Kalola says.