Physical medicine and rehabilitation, also referred to as rehabilitation medicine, is the medical specialty concerned with diagnosing, evaluating, and treating patients with physical disabilities. These disabilities may arise from conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system such as birth defects, neck and back pain, sports injuries, or other painful conditions affecting the limbs, for example carpal tunnel syndrome. Alternatively, the disabilities may result from neurological trauma or disease such as broken hips, spinal cord injury, head injury, or stroke.
A physician certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation is often called a physiatrist. Physiatrists often coordinate the services of an interdisciplinary rehabilitation team that may include neurologists, psychiatrists and orthopaedic surgeons as well as allied health care professionals. The physiatrist takes a holistic approach to patient diagnosis by considering the physical and psychological aspects of a patient's condition. A high degree of patient contact and long-term care are common in this field. Physiatrists use medical history, physical examination, x-rays and other imaging techniques, laboratory studies, and other diagnostic tools in patient management.
The primary goal of the physiatrist is to achieve maximal restoration of physical, psychological, social, and vocational function through comprehensive rehabilitation. The physiatrist not only treats the person with medications but also treats patients with modalities such as heat, cold, massage, traction, electrical stimulation and biofeedback, as well as selective types of therapeutic exercises. Pain management is often an important part of the physiatrist's role. For diagnosis and evaluation, a physiatrist may include the techniques of electromyography to supplement the standard history, physical, X-ray, and laboratory examinations. The physiatrist has expertise in the appropriate use of therapeutic exercise, prosthetics (artificial limbs), orthotics, and mechanical and electrical devices.