Physical Medicine & Rehab FAQs

Physical Medicine & Rehab FAQs

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What is a physiatrist?

A Physiatrist is a doctor specializing in nerves, muscles, and bones. We diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses that affect how you move. Our goal is to reduce pain and restore function without surgery. We help patients stay as active as possible at any age. Our training allows us to diagnose and treat conditions throughout a person's lifetime.


What conditions does a Physiatrist treat?

A Physiatrist treats a broad range of conditions that affect patients of any age. Some examples of the common things we treat include: back and spine injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, pinched nerves in neck/back/arms/legs, amputee recovery, osteoarthritis and joint pain, whiplash, muscle strain/sprains, and conditions causing muscle spasticity. We also assist with balance and fall prevention, and sports related injuries.


I have noticed that sometimes my right hand falls asleep when I drive and occasionally I drop things. What can cause this?

Symptoms like these along with occasional numbness and tingling may be from a few different sources. One common source is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. A proper diagnosis is needed for treatment and can be obtained by having a physical examination. Sometimes nerve and muscle testing is necessary. In the case of Carpal Tunnel, options can be discussed that range from simple to more aggressive treatment.


I’m 41 years old and have knee pain. Are there any options for me besides surgery?

Knee pain can come from many different sources. Commonly, arthritis begins to develop as we age and can be a primary cause of knee or other joint pain. There are many non-surgical options available to treat arthritis including medication, exercise and joint fluid replacement therapy. In addition, a non-invasive pulsed electrical stimulation device can be very helpful. Pain in the knee may come from a different source, and a good physical exam is needed to identify additional causes so appropriate treatment can be utilized.


I have recently been involved in an accident and I have back pain. What should I do next?

People often hurt themselves in this way or even on the job. A Physiatrist is a back injury specialist with training in diagnosing and treating these injuries to achieve increased activity and pain reduction. Together, we can achieve better results if proper treatment is begun right after the injury occurs.


What is the difference between Physical Medicine and Physical Therapy?

Physical Medicine (Physiatry) Physicians are trained medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating problems related to the musculoskeletal and nervous system. Physical therapy is one of many treatment options that might be prescribed by your Physiatrist, and a physical therapist would administer that treatment.


A few months ago I developed back pain but lately it has been going down my legs. What should I do?

There are many reasons why back pain might cause radiation of symptoms into the legs. This might represent a change or a new problem. The symptoms may be coming from the spine, nerves or muscles. You should have this change in symptoms evaluated by a trained back specialist, a Physiatrist, to determine how best to be treated.


I do a lot of sitting at work and this hurts my back. Any suggestions?

This may be due to the set-up of your workspace. Too often, typical workspace set-ups put people into difficult postures and create bad habits and poor body mechanics. Evaluating the set-up and making good ergonomic alterations may improve this condition. If this is done, and the pain continues, then your back should be evaluated to determine why and where it hurts.


I had an amputation of my right leg. My doctor said I am ready to get a new leg. How do I go about doing this?

At this point, you are ready for a preparatory prosthesis. You should have a consultation with a Physiatrist who will discuss with you your specific needs, and help to design a prosthetic leg. You will then work together with your Physiatrist and a Prosthetist (prosthetic mechanic) to build your new leg and make the necessary adjustments until it is the perfect leg for you.


I’ve had back pain for years and even had back surgery but I still have pain. Now what?

The surgery has corrected the original anatomical problem that initially caused your pain. Over the course of time, both before and after the surgery, your body does things to try and naturally "splint" your back to protect it from worsening. This reaction by the body, unfortunately, can cause its own issues, as anytime the body overcompensates for one problem, it can create a second one. Your Physiatrist can help sort out these issues, and prescribe treatments that can help put you back on the course of wellness.


I am a diabetic but I also have chronic low back pain. I am now starting to have pain along with tingling down my legs. How do I know what is causing this?

These symptoms into your legs may indicate further degenerative changes in your spine causing irritation of the nerves. Also, with the diabetes, some of these symptoms may occur due to nerve ending changes in the legs or arms as a result of the diabetes. Diagnosis of this may be done using a Nerve Conduction Study and an Electromyogram, (EMG). Once the diagnosis is found, there are treatment options available.


My 19 year old daughter is complaining of pain in her upper back, since she started college. What could be causing this?

Frequently, students who need to carry heavy loads of books do so in a backpack or shoulder bag. Quite often, these bags are not used as they were intended to be worn. People have the tendency to throw the backpack over one shoulder, which unevenly distributes the heavy weight across the spine causing overcompensation and pain. Wearing the backpack evenly as intended should help this situation. If not, additional treatment may be needed.


What is sciatic pain due to? What can I do to prevent it?

Sciatic pain is a generic term for any pain in the area of the leg where the sciatic nerve travels. The sciatic nerve is actually a bundle of smaller nerves that start in different places and end in different places. Sciatic pain or "Sciatica" can come from any one of these areas, or an irritation of the nerve bundle itself. Some examples of where the pain might start from are the spine, pelvis, buttock muscles, or nerve entrapment in the leg. Prevention of this pain is through learning what the exact cause is, and how to avoid aggravation of this area.


I’ve had a fusion done on my lower back, but I still have pain. My sister has a TENS unit. Would this help me?

The pain associated with post-surgical recovery often comes from tight muscles that spasm into a natural "splint" as the body heals. Additionally, pain may come from another place in the back than where surgery was. TENS units work to change your perception of the pain signals. They do not, however, help fix the problem. If your pain is from tight muscles, another stimulator for them may be more appropriate. If the pain is from another location, that source should be found to treat it accurately.


I’m a paraplegic and I’ve recently moved to the area. Is there anyone that I should be following with?

Physiatrists are trained to follow the changes a person's body goes through from a spinal cord injury. Whether your injury is new or you are an experienced patient with great knowledge of your injuries, you will need to establish with a physician who understands the problems and issues that arise after spinal cord injury. Establish a relationship early with a Physiatrist you trust so that you and your doctor become familiar with how your body and injury work.


I’ve had headaches for years and tried all the medications. Do you have any options for me?

Headaches come in many forms. Although many headaches are called migraines, they in fact may be tension headaches instead. If you find that you have tight neck and shoulder muscles that are painful, these muscles might be the source of your headaches. Muscle relaxation techniques and treatments can help this. You may want to consider the use of Botox to help relax the muscles. Botox is an injection that helps to relax, tight, overactive muscles.