The field of physiatry is the practice of physical medicine and rehabilitation, also known as PM&R. Physiatrists focus on their patient’s quality of life and helping them regain functionality in their bodies. There are many different conditions that can be treated through physiatry, and physiatrists specialize in analyzing the patient’s situation and creating effective treatment plans.

What is Physiatry?

Physiatry is a complex field that encompasses the practice of medicine that surrounds the musculoskeletal system and the treatment of issues that can develop. This means that Physiatrists are not physical therapists or rehabilitators, but they do treat issues within nerves, the spine, severe injuries, and much more. They focus on treating the entire patient as a whole person rather than just one issue at a time. This tends to produce results that are holistic and much more extensively beneficial. 


Diagnosing any issues for any doctor is a process. Within physiatry, the doctor may want to perform a number of tests and exams to ensure that they have the entire picture before diagnosing anything. A physiatrist may order any combination of these tests to diagnose a patient depending on the symptoms. 

Lab Work

Drawing blood and performing lab testing on that blood is usually an essential part of diagnosing any serious condition. Labs give a provider an inside view of the patient that they can’t get even from scans. A full panel of bloodwork is often a doctor’s first choice before making a plan. 


Depending on the patient, certain scans can be very helpful in coming to a conclusive diagnosis. X-rays are an inexpensive and accessible way to get a basic look at the musculoskeletal system. Ultrasounds are a way to get that same kind of look into the tissues and vascular system. CT scans and MRIs are the next step and show a much more comprehensive picture of the patient’s body. 

Physical Examination 

Each physiatrist tends to do a physical exam of the patient’s body, specifically on the problem area. This can help them to get a hands-on view of the muscles and bones that they are working with. Although this can be helpful, it is not essential to diagnosing. 

Treatments in Physiatry

The kinds of treatments in physiatry tend to shy away from traditional methods of pain medicine and rest, and go for more active approaches on the part of the patient. Many people who do not enjoy physiotherapy are not willing to put in the effort required to heal in this way. There are multiple parts of physiatric treatments that include:

Massage Therapy

Because the treatment of the musculoskeletal system includes the muscles, massaging them can often produce healing and helpful results. Unfortunately, many patients need more than just massage therapy to produce long term results. The physiatrist may perform this therapy on their own or refer out to a specialist. 

Assistive Devices 

From back braces to ultrasound therapy machines, there are many different kinds of devices that physiatrists use to assist in healing and promote function in the patient. Depending on the issue, some devices are used only temporarily or can be used to treat symptoms as they appear. 

Physical Therapy and Exercises 

Physical therapy has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of handling and treating pain and other issues, especially after injury. Physiatry shares many concepts and treatment methods with physical therapy. 


Medicines like trigger point injections, steroids, and antibiotics are all common in physiatry. Other than this, most medicines are not prescribed. It is not that medicines are avoided, but heavy duty medicines that may do more harm than good are not usually prescribed in physiatry. There are many ways that these doctors try to treat the issues before going to medicines, especially when it comes to pain

When to See a Physiatrist 

Physiatrists see patients for a wide range of conditions and issues. There are so many people that could be helped through these kinds of treatments. Seeing someone as a whole person instead of treating small issues separately has been proven as an effective method of care. If you have been experiencing pain, long term issues, or are not healing, make an appointment today!