What is physical medicine and rehabilitation? with picture of a physiatrist

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also known as physiatry, is a medical specialty that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of conditions that affect the musculoskeletal, neurological, and other bodily systems. PM&R physicians, called physiatrists, aim to enhance and restore functional abilities, improve quality of life, and optimize overall well-being for patients with disabilities, injuries, or chronic medical conditions.

Physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians employ a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, collaborating with other healthcare professionals such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, psychologists, and social workers. They assess patients’ functional impairments and develop individualized treatment plans that may include medication management, therapeutic exercises, assistive devices, adaptive technologies, and interventional procedures.

PM&R covers a wide range of conditions, including:

  1. Musculoskeletal Disorders: Physiatrists diagnose and manage conditions such as back pain, neck pain, joint pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and sports-related injuries.
  2. Neurological Disorders: They specialize in the rehabilitation of individuals with conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and peripheral neuropathy.
  3. Amputations and Prosthetics: Physiatrists play a key role in the rehabilitation process for individuals who have undergone limb amputations, helping them adapt to prosthetic devices and regain mobility and functionality.
  4. Pain Management: Physiatrists are trained in various pain management techniques, including medication management, nerve blocks, spinal cord stimulation, and other interventional procedures, to alleviate chronic pain.
  5. Rehabilitation after Surgery: They provide post-surgical rehabilitation and optimize recovery after procedures like joint replacements, orthopedic surgeries, and neurosurgical interventions.
  6. Pediatric Rehabilitation: Physiatrists also work with children and adolescents, addressing conditions such as cerebral palsy, developmental delays, and congenital musculoskeletal abnormalities.


  1. American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. (n.d.). About Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Retrieved from https://www.aapmr.org/about-physiatry/about-physical-medicine-rehabilitation
  2. Bicket, M. C., Gupta, A., & Brown, C. H. (Eds.). (2018). Essentials of Pain Medicine (Fourth Edition). Elsevier.
  3. Braddom, R. L. (Ed.). (2020). Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (5th Edition). Elsevier.
  4. DeLisa, J. A., Gans, B. M., & Walsh, N. E. (Eds.). (2019). Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Principles and Practice (6th Edition). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  5. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (n.d.). Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/rehabilitation/conditioninfo