What is a Physiatrist?
Accidents and injuries that impair our basic every day functions such as walking, breathing and eating can be particularly scary, both physically and emotionally. Physiatry, or Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), is a field of medicine that is designed to improve and maximize function lost through injury, illness or disabling conditions. Physiatrists are experts on the bones, muscles and nerves that control how your body is affected by trauma like spinal cord damage, sports injuries, limb amputations, strokes and other musculoskeletal conditions.
But how do you know when to see a physiatrist, or what conditions are appropriate for physiatry? For answers, we went straight to one of OrthoCarolina’s in-house experts, Dr. Alexander Chasnsis, a physiatrist who sees patients at OrthoCarolina’s Spine Center, Huntersville and Mooresville locations.
According to Dr. Chasnis, physiatrists diagnose and treat patients of all ages for conditions ranging from developmental disabilities found in childhood, all the way to acute injuries in adults, to chronic diseases that come with aging. A major component of physiatry is that the care focuses on creating a comprehensive program for patients after injury or disease -- without surgery. Here are some of the key roles a physiatrist can play:
- Treat issues with medicine and physical therapy as opposed to surgery
- Diagnose the root of pain and formulate a plan to treat it ongoing
- Provide a wholly encompassing care plan for the patient that focuses on more than just the injury
- Offer non-surgical treatment options
The physiatrists at OrthoCarolina are sub-specialized and often treat spinal problems with medications or physical therapy. While these providers are non-operative they are trained in various spinal injections that are often done under fluoroscopy, such as X-ray. OrthoCarolina physiatrists also perform electrodiagnostic studies, more commonly known as “nerve studies”, to help diagnose various neurologic problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
When a physiatrist develops a plan for care, they design it around the patient’s lifestyle, trying to make the patient as self-sufficient as possible while keeping them active and healthy. Oftentimes they will involve other medical providers in the plan for various treatments such as physical therapy or neurology.
Patients who are under the supervision of a PM&R doctor often experience physical as well as emotional pain and need long-term rehabilitation as a supplement to immediate treatment. This is part of the reason that the physiatrist develops an ongoing program that will enable them to lead a more normal life. In earlier decades, patients who suffered from certain conditions often didn’t survive; for example before World War II, spinal cord injuries were almost always fatal. Now with proper physiatric care most people can have a normal life span.