What is a Physiatrist and What Conditions Do They Treat?

Physiatrists help pinpoint difficult-to-diagnose pain by examining the relationships of all the moving parts of the body and are often the first stop for orthopaedic issues. Consulting with a physiatrist before seeking surgical treatment can be a valuable decision.

If you are experiencing muscle spasms, shooting pain, pain that comes unexpectedly, muscle weakness, or chronic back pain, you may want to consider seeing our Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist, Jonathan Waldbaum, MD. Dr. Waldbaum’s personalized treatment plans are designed to help patients improve function and mobility without the need for surgery.

What is a Physiatrist?

A Physiatrist (fizz-eye-ah-trist) is a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, also known as PM&R. Physiatrists are medical doctors who have successfully completed medical school, a 1-year rotating internship which typically includes rotations in internal medicine, neurology, surgery and emergency medicine, followed by a 3-year residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dr. Waldbaum has additional certifications in Sports Medicine and Pain Management.

Physiatrists treat a wide range of problems from spinal cord injuries to ankle sprains. Dr. Waldbaum’s practice focuses on treating people with musculoskeletal and neurologic conditions. The most common problems treated are back and neck injuries with an emphasis on restoring normal function through non-operative treatment. Typical treatment may include therapeutic exercise, medications and pain-relieving injections to improve function.

When Should I see a Physiatrist?

An evaluation with a Physiatrist would be appropriate if you are experiencing musculoskeletal related pain, weakness, loss of range of motion and/or a decline in function.

Often times you may be referred by another treating doctor to see a Physiatrist when you require testing of the muscles and nerves (electrodiagnostic testing or EMG) to help diagnose your symptoms. Traditionally, you would get an EMG test to evaluate symptoms of numbness and tingling in the hands or feet or radiating pain from the neck into the arm or the back into the leg.

You may be referred to a Physiatrist for a diagnostic or therapeutic spinal injection.

You may be referred to a Physiatrist when your Orthopaedic Surgeon does not feel surgical intervention is appropriate. This could be because your surgeon feels you may be able to avoid surgery with alternative treatment or because your problem is not amenable to a surgical solution.

What Can I Expect at an Appointment?

Typically, an evaluation would consist of:

  • a thorough history attempting to gain an understanding of the problem and how it is affecting day-to-day functioning,
  • a review of prior treatment records to understand what has worked/what has not worked and what conditions have been ruled out,
  • a physical examination focused on how you are functioning, and
  • a review of available imaging studies (x-rays or MRI).

Physiatrists often employ other diagnostic tools such as electrodiagnostic evaluation (a test of how the nerves and muscles in your body are working) and diagnostic injections.

What are Common Conditions Treated by Physiatrist?

Physiatrists primarily treat conditions of the bones, muscles, joints, and central/peripheral nervous system that affect a person’s ability to function.

Physiatrists, like Dr. Waldbaum, focus on Physical Medicine and most commonly treat problems such as back pain, neck pain, joint pain, and numbness and tingling in the limbs.

Physiatrists who focus on inpatient Rehabilitation, most commonly treat people with conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and multiple traumas.