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What Is a PM&R Physician?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 23, 2021

A physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, also known as a PM&R physician or a physiatrist, treats a wide variety of medical conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. 

Their goal is to improve movement ability and quality of life. PM&R physicians focus on the patient as a whole person, not just one area of the body.

What Does a PM&R Physician Do?

PM&R physicians can address physical medical conditions affecting any area of the body.

PM&R physicians design treatment plans for people of any age. They’ll check on your condition, needs, and goals; make sure there isn’t a serious medical reason for the issues you’re having, and design a treatment plan to help you reach your goals.

Education and Training

PM&R physicians are medical doctors who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation. In addition to their medical school degree, many of them have subspecialty certifications. These certifications can be in fields such as:

To become a PM&R physician, the following requirements must be met:

  • A four-year medical school degree
  • Four years of postdoctoral physical medicine and rehabilitation residency
  • One year of fundamental clinical skills
  • Three years of training in their specialty

PM&R physicians who pursue a subspecialty also do a fellowship in that specialty. They must take a written and oral exam to become PM&R certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

What Conditions Does a PM&R Physician Treat?

PM&R physicians treat problems that happen because of injury, illness, or chronic conditions. The most common treatments include:

  • Medical rehabilitation
  • Pain-neuromuscular medicine rehabilitation
  • Musculoskeletal medicine
  • Rehabilitation of central nervous system disorders
  • Pediatric rehabilitation

The two major components a PM&R physician specializes in are physical medicine and rehabilitation.

Physical Medicine

PM&R physicians develop a comprehensive program to help their patients physically, socially, emotionally, and vocationally. They manage many types of physical problems, and help you stay as active as possible at any age.

If you have had physical trauma, PM&R physicians may prescribe braces or splints to improve your arm or leg position or function, prosthetics for limb loss, or equipment to help you move more safely. This equipment can include tools such as wheelchairs, standers, walkers, bath benches, or lifts.

Rehabilitation

PM&R physicians can prescribe medication for muscle or nerve problems, attention and memory issues, respiratory or gastrointestinal issues, and behavior, sleep, or pain concerns, among many more medical problems. 

Reasons to See a PM&R Physician

If you have had physical trauma, pain, or problems with movement, visiting a PM&R physician might be your next step.

They can diagnose and treat issues medical conditions related to disabilities, including:

  • Cognitive problems
  • Orthopedic issues
  • Mobility concerns
  • Bowel and bladder problems
  • Disorders that affect your walking
  • Feeding and swallowing problems
  • Trouble with communication
  • Pain
  • Muscle stiffness or poor muscle tone

You might also consider seeing a PM&R physician if:

  • You need rehabilitation after an injury, illness, or surgery;
  • You have chronic pain
  • Obesity or aging has made it harder for you to be physically active.

A PM&R physician may work with a team of neurologists, orthopedists, neurosurgeons, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and primary care doctors, depending what you need. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

Sources:

American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: “What is a Physiatrist,” “Conditions and Treatments,” “FAQs about Physiatry,” “About Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation,” “Why Visit a PM&R Physician.”

American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: “Getting Board Certified.”

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