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Figuring out what physiatry is all about

The field of medicine may seem like it's getting more and more specialized and technical, but there's a medical specialty that's been around for decades, relies on the basics of physical medicine and many people have never heard of. This week on "Take Care," hosts Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen interview Syracuse-based physiatrist Dr. Farah Siddiqui to explain what physiatry is.

Lorraine Rapp: Physiatry is a relatively new medical specialty.  What exactly does a physiatrist do?

Dr. Farrah Siddiqui: To give you a little bit of background about the history, physiatry has actually been around since the 1920s.  That’s when it came into fruition, shortly after World War I.  It was integrated into the American Board of Medical Specialties in 1947.  We’ve actually been around for a few decades.  Though we are a small specialty, we are growing quite rapidly, especially in the last decade or two.  Generally, physiatrists are physicians who specialize in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, or PM&R for short.  We are physicians that are trained to diagnose, to treat, and to direct a comprehensive rehabilitation program in order to make sure our patients have the best functional outcome.

Lorraine Rapp: What types of conditions do you treat?

Dr. Siddiqui: A very broad range of conditions.  Quite generally, we are treating patients who are dealing with disorders that produce pain, impairment, disability, or all of the above.  Quite specifically, we are dealing with patients who have maybe suffered a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, stroke, various neuromuscular conditions like MS, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, [and] Parkinson’s.  A large number of physiatrists go into musculoskeletal medicine and sports injuries.  I deal more with spine pain and musculoskeletal disorders.  There are physiatrists who specialize in pediatric rehab, helping patients who may have congenital impairments related to CP, spina bifida, or Down syndrome.  We also are very well-equipped to manage patients who have just undergone surgery; orthopedic procedures for joint replacements, organ transplantations, or any form of cardiac surgery or lung surgery. 

Linda Lowen: How would someone find a physiatrist in their area?

Dr. Siddiqui: A lot of physiatrists, if you’re particularly looking on the outpatient side, are often [found] through your insurance carrier (you might be able to connect with someone who pars with your particular insurance).  [You] can also check out our academy website, which is the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.  [You] may be able to be directed to a physiatrist in [your] locality.