What is Physiatry?

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physicians, or physiatrists, treat conditions affecting both musculoskeletal and neurological systems. A lot of people get confused with this term. And no, physiatrists are not psychiatrists, podiatrists, or physical therapists!

How is it different from other specialties?

Like orthopaedic surgeons, physiatrists treat diseases and injuries involving bones, muscles, joints and tendons. However, instead of offering surgical solutions, they guide patients through a variety of NON-surgical treatment options to improve function and reduce pain.

Physiatry is a relatively new specialty. Physical Medicine started in the 1930s by Dr. Krusen and expanded with the start of WWII with the need to rehabilitate soldiers with debilitating nerve and muscle injuries. In the 1940’s Dr. Rusk developed the field of Rehabilitation and founded the Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine, based on his experience with WWII soldiers. The combination of these two, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, or PM&R, became a medical specialty in 1947. I was fortunate to receive my training at the Rusk Institute in NYC.

During my training I treated people with spinal cord injury, concussion and brain injury, amputations, neuromuscular diseases, and cardiopulmonary diseases requiring intensive rehabilitation. People with these conditions often fall in between individual specialties such as Neurology, Orthopaedics, and Cardiology. Physiatry bridges that gap and provides these people with rehabilitation and an improvement in overall function. PM&R is often called the ‘quality of life’ profession since its aim is to enhance function and patient performance.

Are there subspecialties or other expertise areas?

Subspecialty certified areas in Physiatry include Sports Medicine, Brain Injury Medicine, Spinal Cord Injury Medicine, Neuromuscular Medicine, Pain Medicine, and Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine. I received my subspecialty board certification in Sports Medicine.

Why you were drawn to this field?

I have unfortunately experienced a number of musculoskeletal conditions myself and first became personally interested in this field after undergoing a long course of physical therapy treatments. I began to do research in this area during medical school that further piqued my interest. After doing a summer work-study program at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York City, I have been in the field since.

Where do you work?

I work at the University of California San Diego in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. I see patients and athletes in our main campus and in our Sports Medicine office. I also help with research in our Clinical Physiology Lab. From my background training, I also have an interest in the Paralympic athlete population.

What do you do for your own health/fitness?

I do rehab myself, and include things like cycling around UCSD campus to improve cardiovascular fitness, swimming locally (e.g. here in La Jolla Cove) to improve mobility & posture, and resistance training to maintain strength as I age. Two major themes of Physiatry are to improve quality of life and optimize function in the face of illness/injury, so I am trying to live by these maxims.

(Sources: ABPMR, AAPM&R, NYU Rusk Institute)