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A physiatrist is a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation of the entire body. They care for people with severe musculoskeletal conditions of the spine (such as neck or back pain) and joints (such as shoulder, hip or knee pain). Physiatrists commonly diagnose and treat conditions where patients experience pain without an obvious cause or injury, such as lower back pain. They do not perform surgeries, but they do perform minimally invasive procedures such as injection therapy for people with joint or spine conditions and injuries.

A physiarist preparing a patient for a spinal injection.

Common conditions physiatrists treat

  • cervical radiculopathy (neck pain that may radiate down the arm)
  • frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis)
  • shoulder impingement
  • hip arthritis and osteoarthritis of the spine
  • herniated disc (slipped disc or ruptured disc)
  • sciatica

When to See a Physiatrist

You should consider seeing a physiatrist if you:

  • have recurrent pain in one or more parts of your body, especially if you have not suffered an obvious injury that would explain your condition
  • become either suddenly or gradually unable to perform certain daily activities, or cannot perform them at the same level or intensity you are used to
  • experience new difficulties with instability, flexibility, balance or strength

Pain, instability, stiffness and weakness can affect anyone – no matter how active you are – and can have many causes. Some people may begin to experience discomfort when they take up a new exercise regimen, such as jogging. Others may develop a repetitive stress injury, in which a part of the body is damaged by overuse. Overuse may be caused by activity such has having to sit for long periods of time while working.

A physiatrist will diagnose your condition by performing a thorough exam and learning about your medical and activity history. In some cases, they may order imaging, such as an X-ray or MRI, to help make a diagnosis.

Will I Need Surgery for My Injury?

Many musculoskeletal pains and injuries can be treated with nonsurgical treatments such as:

  • physical therapy or performance training (for example, to strengthen certain muscles or stretch certain ligaments that may not be adequately developed to support your preferred level of activity)
  • NSAID pain medications such as ibuprofen
  • injection therapies of corticosteroids or other agents

If a physiatrist thinks you may need surgery, they will refer you to the appropriate surgeon.

Physiatry at HSS Florida

The physiatry team at HSS works to improve each patient’s quality of life by taking a personalized approach to care. Our experience in orthopedic and musculoskeletal health ranges from dance medicine and conditions common among performers to spinal injuries and concussions that occur during sports. Meet our doctors.