What Disorders Do Physiatrists Treat?
The focus of physiatry is to reduce or relieve pain and restore function lost due to illness or injury. This can range from temporary, short-term conditions like a sports or work-related injury to serious or chronic disorders such as cancer, arthritis, stroke, spinal injuries, or orthopedic trauma. Physiatrists also treat people who require long-term rehabilitation due to such conditions as:
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Back pain and neck pain
- Joint replacement
- Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions (SpineUniverse's sister site, Practical Pain Management, has many resources on fibromyalgia and chronic pain. Visit it to learn more about treating chronic pain.)
- Birth defects such as cerebral palsy
- Pain problems following trauma and surgeries
- Cardiac disorders
- Spinal cord injuries, paraplegia, quadriplegia
- Brain injuries
- Multiple sclerosis
- Polio and post-polio syndrome
- ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease)
Physiatrists use many of the same diagnostic tools used by other physicians, such as a thorough health history and imaging tests such as x-rays and CT scans, MRI scans, and PET scans. However, physiatrists also utilize other specialized techniques that help diagnose conditions that may cause pain, weakness, or numbness. Some of these include:
- EMGs (electromyography): Measures muscle response to nerve stimulation and evaluates electrical activity within selected muscle fibers. The test can help to differentiate between a muscle and nerve disorder.
- Nerve conduction studies: Evaluates the speed of nerve impulses as they travel along a nerve. This test can help determine if there is nerve damage, the extent of the damage, and if nerves have been destroyed.
- Somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs): Tests the pathways between the peripheral nerves through the spine to the brain.