Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R)Open print version


Physiatry, also called physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), is a medical specialty that primarily uses physical means to help in diagnosis, healing, and rehabilitation. Physiatrists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with chronic illness (e.g., stroke) or injury (e.g., spinal cord, brain), acute and chronic pain, and musculoskeletal injuries (e.g., sports-, work-related). Many physiatrists specialize in the treatment of back pain.

What is physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R)?

Physiatrists treat the whole person. They address the patient’s physical, emotional, and social needs during rehabilitation. Physiatrists direct the rehabilitation team that may include physical or occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, social workers, athletic trainers, and more.

PM&R doctors work in a variety of settings including clinics, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers.

How can PM&R help me?

PM&R can help patients with chronic disease, pain, or disabilities toward optimal function, thus improving recovery and quality of life. Physiatrists diagnose and treat problems of the musculoskeletal system, including back and neck pain, spinal cord injury, and other conditions.

With the use of physical agents and therapeutic exercise, rehabilitation can help patients in the following ways to:

  • reduce pain
  • improve quality of life for those with temporary or severe impairment
  • learn how to use assistive devices (e.g., braces, wheelchairs, etc.)

During rehabilitation, PM&R doctors care for patients facing physical impairment and the accompanying emotional challenges as well.

About your office visit

Physiatrists plan treatment based on a thorough evaluation of the patient’s medical history, and/or neurological reports, X-rays, and laboratory tests. They can use electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction tests to evaluate nerve and muscle function. PM&R treatment may include any combination of the following: medication, physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage, exercise, epidural steroid injections, and more.

In coordination with the rehabilitation team, the goal is to improve function in your daily activities. Your progress is carefully tracked until your symptoms have resolved or stabilized. In some cases, symptoms progress, indicating surgery may be needed. If so, your PM&R doctor will refer you to a surgeon for further evaluation.

What special training does a PM&R doctor have?

A PM&R doctor completes 4 years of medical school and at least 4 more years of residency training in this field. They are then board certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Sources & links

If you have more questions, please contact Mayfield Brain & Spine at 800-325-7787 or 513-221-1100.

updated: 9.2018
reviewed by: Marc Orlando, MD, Mayfield Clinic, Cincinnati, Ohio

Mayfield Certified Health Info materials are written and developed by the Mayfield Clinic. This information is not intended to replace the medical advice of your health care provider.

Mayfield services

Patients who come to Mayfield with neck and back problems are given a rapid review of their medical condition within a few days, not weeks. It's a treatment process called Priority Consult.

Our PM&R physicians are experts at diagnosing and treating acute and/or chronic pain.

To make an appointment call 513-221-1100.