Physiatry: an obscure type of medicine

Aug 10, 2014

You are probably familiar with physical therapists and physicians, but have you ever heard of physiatrists

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Farrah Siddiqui discusses the medical field of physiatry and how it is practiced.  Siddiqui is an interventional physiatrist at RSM Medical Associates based in Syracuse, New York.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Siddiqui.

Although physiatry may seem like a new field, it has actually been around for many years.  The field began in the 1920s and was integrated into the American Board of Medical Specialties in 1947.

Physiatrists specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation, known as PM&R.  They work with patients who suffer from physical pain and disability or impairment.  Common conditions that are treated by physiatry include spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, and neuro-muscular diseases.

Diagnosis of conditions is done through physical exams and scans that can include electro-diagnostics as well as x-rays and MRIs.  Siddiqui says that the physical exam is used heavily by physiatrists.

“Really we are probably one of the few specialties that relies on our physical exam.” 

Physiatrists use minimally invasive procedures to treat patients.  Treatment is done in both in- and out-patient settings.

What distinguishes physiatrists from physical therapists is that they use medicinal and physical approaches to treatment.  Because the two areas of medicine are so similar, professionals from both fields often work together.

“We are very well-trained in administering some of the therapeutic modalities that physical therapists use and we are very familiar and comfortable with them so we can often have a very productive conversation with therapists.”

Physiatrists that are fellowship trained will sometimes use x-ray procedures to inject medications into the epidural space or into joints of the spine depending on the location of the source of pain.

Because physiatry combines multiple types of medicine, Siddiqui says that it should be used as part of a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to treatment. 

“A patient may be on medications [and] receiving physical therapy and they just need a little extra help to complete their therapy program.”

Most insurance companies cover physiatry, says Siddiqui, who recommends visiting your carrier’s website to identify the local providers that are compatible with your insurance.