Physical medicine and rehabilitation

Physical medicine and rehabilitation

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), or physiatry, is a branch of medicine dealing with functional restoration of a person affected by physical disability. A physician who has completed training in this field is referred to as a physiatrist [fɪz'aiətrɪst]. In order to be a physiatrist in the United States, one must complete four years of medical school, one year of internship and three years of residency. Physiatrists specialize in restoring optimal function to people with injuries to the muscles, bones, tissues, and nervous system (such as stroke patients).


The term 'Physiatry' was coined by Dr. Frank H. Krusen in 1938. The term was accepted by the American Medical Association in 1946. The field grew notably in response to the demand for sophisticated rehabilitation techniques for the large number of injured soldiers returning from World War II.

Scope of the field

Physical medicine and rehabilitation involves the management of disorders that alter the function and performance of the patient. Emphasis is placed on the optimization of function through the combined use of medications, physical modalities, physical training with therapeutic exercise, movement & activities modification, adaptive equipments and assistive device, orthotics (braces), prosthesis, and experiential training approaches.

Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation physicians may also perform electrodiagnostics which are used to provide nervous system functional information for diagnosis and / or prognosis for various neuromuscular disorders. The common electrodiagnostic tests performed by physiatrists are nerve conduction velocity studies (NCVs) and needle electromyographes (EMGs). The nerve conduction velocity study involves electrical stimulation to peripheral nerves and the nerves' responses are measured such as onset latency, amplitude and conduction velocity. Needle electromyography requires needle electrode insertion into the examined muscles to detect the electrical potential generated from muscle fibers. Abnormal electrical potentials such as fibrillation potential or positive sharp wave detected by EMG needle indicates the presence of muscle fibers that lost the nerve supply.

Common conditions that are treated by physiatrists include amputation, spinal cord injury, sports injury, stroke, musculoskeletal pain syndromes such as low back pain, fibromyalgia and traumatic brain injury. Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation involves optimizing function in those afflicted with heart or lung disease. Chronic pain management is achieved through multidisciplinary approach involving psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, and interventional procedures when indicated. In addition to the previous methodology, stroke is often treated with the help of a speech therapist and recreational therapist when possible.


The major concern of the field is the ability of the person to function optimally within the limitations placed upon them by a disease process for which there is no known cure. The emphasis is not on the full restoration to the premorbid level of function, but rather the optimization of the quality of life for those who may not be able to achieve full restoration. A team approach to chronic conditions is emphasized, using transdisciplinary team meetings to coordinate care of the patients.


Six formal sub-specializations are recognized by the field in the United States: pain medicine, pediatric rehabilitation, spinal cord injury medicine, neuromuscular medicine, sports medicine, and hospice and palliative medicine. Many in the field also subspecialize in areas of amputee care, musculoskeletal medicine, electrodiagnostics, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation.

Residencies in the United States

There are no clear rankings among PM&R residencies, but a list of the most commonly cited top programs in the United States would include

There are approximately 350 total positions available via the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) per year.

Notable Rehabilitation Hospitals in the United States

In addition to those associated with elite PM&R residency programs, notable US rehabilitation hospitals, many of which are teaching hospitals, include:

Popular textbooks

Two main textbooks often used by those in the specialty are Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Principles and Practice by Joel DeLisa and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Medicine by Randall Braddom. Useful handbooks for medical students and residents include PM&R Secrets by Mark Young, Brian O'Young and Steven Stiens, and PM&R Pocketpedia by Howard Choi and colleagues.

Book Reference


The two main journals of the PM&R field are Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Both journals are published monthly. Archives, which had been co-owned by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) and the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM), will be solely owned by the Congress beginning January 2009. At that time, the Academy will launch a new journal: PM&R, The journal of injury, function and rehabilitation.

Quarterly journal Physical Medicine And Rehabilitation Clinics of North America published by Elsevier / Saunders also provides in-depth updated information on specific Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation topic.

Individual Residency Programs



External links


Additional Resources

Rehabilitation hospital links

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