About Physiatry

Our physiatrists (also known as physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians) within the Brigham spine Center specialize in non-surgical care for conditions, particularly neuromuscular disorders, that cause pain and impair normal function. Along with their standard medical training, many physiatrists also pursue additional training in one or more of the following subspecialties: musculoskeletal rehabilitation, pediatrics, spinal cord injury, sports medicine, traumatic brain injury, and pain medicine. 

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Why Should I See a Physiatrist?

Physiatrists not only have a keen understanding of how the body works and the medical issues at play, but also understand how these medical issues can affect a patient’s mobility, mood, and quality of life. Through their breadth of training, physiatrists aim to rehabilitate the whole person, addressing their physical, emotional, medical, and vocational needs.

How Does a Physiatrist Diagnose Patients with Spine Disorders?

Along with developing a detailed medical history, and performing standard diagnostic procedures, physiatrists at our Spine Center have particular expertise in using electrodiagnosis. This diagnostic technique, which includes electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction study, detects areas of nerve and muscle damage by measuring electrical activity in specific areas of the body. EMG helps detect neuromuscular abnormalities by measuring electrical activity in the muscles. A nerve conduction study helps to differentiate a nerve disorder from a muscle disorder.

To develop a complete diagnosis, the spine physiatrist also will evaluate whether a patient has other musculoskeletal and neurological conditions and how that may be contributing to the patient's primary condition.

How Do Physiatrists Treat Patients with Spine Disorders?

A physiatrist’s treatment focuses on thoroughly educating patients about their diagnosis and coordinating a multidisciplinary approach to non-operative (conservative) musculoskeletal care. Treatment – focused on restoring function, reducing pain, and improving quality of life – may include one or more of the following:

  • Explain benefits and role of exercise therapy, and instruct patients about proper exercise techniques and regimen guidelines.
  • Establish a physical therapy regimen.
  • Counsel patients about ways to improve their overall health, such as smoking cessation and weight management.
  • Prescribe and manage a medication regimen, with a focus on non-opiate therapies.
  • Administer minimally invasive injections to the spine and peripheral joints – using ultrasound guidance – to treat pain and restore function. (These injections also can be used as a diagnostic tool, helping to pinpoint pain sources.)
  • Refer to psychosocial support.
  • Refer to alternative therapies, such as medical acupuncture.
    In the vast majority of cases, a physiatrist can effectively manage a patient’s spine condition. However, when non-operative measures fail to effectively treat pain and restore function, our physiatrists can refer patients to one of our spine surgeons for further evaluation.

Other Programs

The Functional INtEgrative Restoration (FINER) program is a virtual pain program hosted and facilitated by Mass General Brigham/Spaulding Rehabilitation Network physiatrists, physical therapists, and pain psychologists trained in chronic pain management. 

The program consists of bi-annual, 8-week, virtual group meetings for pain education, integrative skills training, and meaningful engagement with others who understand what it means to be in chronic pain.

Click here to learn more about the program

Our Physiatrists

Access Center

The Brigham and Women's Spine Center has a dedicated access center poised to schedule appointments across the various disciplines associated with spine care (neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, pain management, physical medicine and rehabilitation). To request an appointment or make a referral to the Brigham and Women's Spine Center, please call one of the numbers below.

Request an Appointment:  Spine Access Center Phone: 877-777-2134

Refer a Patient:  1-800-MD-TO-BWH (1-800-638-6294) or fax 617-525-5954. View a list of referral options.

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