When you are in chronic pain after suffering an accident or injury that may have caused long-term disability, and are in need of extensive treatment, there are a variety of specialists you can choose from to help you recover. While some people may be able to recuperate on their own, it’s often required by physicians to get professional help, either from a physiatrist or physical therapist. Both professions are closely related, but there are distinct differences. Here is a guide to help you distinguish between the two, and give you more information about available treatment options.
What is Physical Medicine?
The field of physiatry, also called physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), is a branch of medicine that specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of patients who have been disabled from a disease, condition, disorder, or injury, primarily using physical means, including non-surgical methods such as physical therapy and medication to treat the patient. It is important to note that physiatrists do not perform surgery.
A physiatrist is specialized in treating conditions of the musculoskeletal system, including bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and other structures that affect a person’s ability to function. A physiatrist’s main goal and focus during treatment is helping the patient become as functional and pain-free as possible, and return to functioning and enjoying life as fully as possible. They are usually the first stop in the journey to rehabilitation.
Since a physiatrist is a trained physician with a medical degree, they understand how the body’s various systems relate to one another. They also understand how the musculoskeletal system works with the nervous system to help provide mobility and strength. Based on evaluating the patient, a physiatrist can see to a degree a patient’s level of mobility, dexterity, strength, among other things, to then help pass on a plan of treatment to the physical therapist.
Since the spine is the central focus of the body’s musculoskeletal system, many physiatrists tend to focus on treating back pain. For those who specialize in treating spinal problems, their focus may be more on rehabilitation or on injections (pain management), depending on their training and personal preference.
Due to the broad spectrum of conditions treated and the comprehensive nature of their training, many physiatrists also serve to coordinate the patient’s care with a multidisciplinary team of other doctors and specialists, for example: physical therapists, spine surgeons, psychologists, chiropractors, and others.
What is Physical Therapy?
As experts in the way the body moves, physical therapists are healthcare professionals who know how to target specific muscle groups and use specialized exercises to compensate for the loss of mobility and function. Physical therapists focus on restoring the patient to their full previous level of functionality, if possible, or by treating the loss of mobility that comes with age or chronic diseases. Their goal is to improve quality of life and provide useful exercise to get the body working the way it should.
After careful evaluation, a physical therapist can offer and execute an effective treatment routine, in order to help patients improve or restore their mobility, relieve pain, and reduce the need for surgery and prescription drugs.
Most importantly, a physical therapist allows the patient to participate in a regimented treatment plan, designed specifically for their needs. This customized physical therapy program can help individuals return to their prior level of functioning, and encourage activities and lifestyle changes that can help prevent further injury, and improve overall health and well-being.
How Are These Specialties Connected?
Physical therapists and physiatrists are very different, but have similar training, and are often both part of a patient’s rehabilitation team. Physiatrists have longer and more intensive training in the function of the human body, and can prescribe medications as well as identify medical conditions that can affect rehabilitation. A physical therapist is just as important, as after the physiatrist plans the course of rehabilitation, the physical therapist executes it.
Both specialties are knowledgeable in the application of exercise and equipment towards recovery, and often provide each other support. This can include coaching, much like a personal trainer, encouragement, and even emotional support.
To help you get back to an active lifestyle that you deserve, call Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland at (410) 644-1880, or request an appointment online.