Angie's LIST Guide to
Physical medicine and rehabilitation

If an injury impairs your ability to do the things you usually do, you’ll likely see a physical therapist. Physical therapy is just one part of the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
 

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Rehabilitative care can help individuals restore, regain or improve various aspects of their health. Rehabilitation specialists can help find a better quality of life through different treatment and therapy options.
Rehabilitative care can help individuals restore, regain or improve various aspects of their health. Rehabilitation specialists can help find a better quality of life through different treatment and therapy options.
 
 

What is physical medicine?

Physical medicine helps facilitate a person's physical function. Holistic in approach, it attempts to understand structure and function in the human body. Physical medicine aims to restore the greatest level of function possible for a person who has become disabled. A patient achieves this with physical training through therapeutic exercise, the modification of movement and activity, adaptive equipment and sometimes the use of prosthetic devices or orthotics. A doctor specializing in physical medicine is called a physiatrist.

Rehabilitation includes the disciplines of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. Massage therapy is sometimes included as an adjunct to physical therapy. A psychologist may also be part of the treatment plan.

In addition to exercise and manual therapies, therapists can also use other mechanical forms of therapy, such as electrostimulation, which employes a special machine called a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit that, as the name suggests, stimulates the nerves with electrical current.

The physiatrist may use electrodiagnostics, which measure the electrical activity of affected nerves and muscles, to provide more specific evaluations of neuromuscular disorders.

When to use a rehabilitation facility

Many events, from accidents to strokes, may require the services of a rehabilitation facility. You'll need physical medicine to recover from strokes, accidents, neurological dysfunctions and diseases, surgery, musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis or fibromyalgia and other conditions that cause physical limitations.

Treatment aims to restore the most body function possible and to teach the patient how to work within the remaining limitations. For example, a stroke will require two specific goals of treatment: recovering as much function as possible from the stroke-affected areas and teaching the patient to function best with the limitations that still remain.

Sometimes physical therapy is optional. Depending on the injury, you may not need it, but if you want to heal as completely as possible with as little compromised function as possible, you should seek the services of a good physical therapist.

You won't always find treatment pleasant. Usually it's hard work and involves a lot of discipline. Doing exercises that build strength after an injury or illness may not be your idea of rest and recovery, but the results merit the effort. You should seek the services of a good rehabilitation facility immediately after an injury or stroke so that your recovery will be effective and lasting.

Finding a physical therapy facility

The best facilities take a multidisciplinary approach. When you evaluate facilities, consider whether all the aspects of an effective treatment plan are available. Does this facility have good diagnostic equipment, a reputable physiatrist and a comprehensive approach? Are the physical, occupational, speech and recreation therapists pleasant and professional? How does the facility look to you? Is it pleasant, spacious and clean? Be sure to consult Angie's List for member recommendations on quality rehabilitation facilities near you.

Do you understand clearly why you are being treated with the plan that your doctor recommends? You need to understand the benefits of treatment because doing everything required takes motivation. Most physical therapists will work with patients for the therapeutic hour and give them exercises to do at home. You should understand why you are being asked to do these. If you are not motivated to do them, you won't achieve the optimal results.

Addressing issues confronting both your mind and your body is important. Some conditions that require a physiatrist or physical therapist are permanently limiting. If you have suffered from a stroke, a severe accident or a chronic musculoskeletal condition, such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, you'll need good support in addition to physical or occupational therapy. A good facility will have this support built into its treatment protocol.

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