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What Is the Difference Between a Physical Therapist and a Physiatrist?

People often perceive physiatrists and physical therapists as one and the same. While it’s true that physical therapists and physiatrists treat the same conditions, there are marked differences between how they treat patients. However, they do perform collaborative roles that are all for the benefit of the patient.

Let’s examine the differences between a physical therapist (PT) and a physiatrist and also the similarities they share.

Education and Training of Physiatrists and PTs

Physiatrists are medical doctors who have completed medical school and follow-up medical training, including an internship and a residency. They are specialists in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and they do not perform surgical treatments – so they implement exercise to restore a patient’s functioning and to lessen their pain; the ailment may be due to a disease or an injury.

Physical therapists, on the other hand, first earn a bachelor’s (undergraduate) degree just like doctors do, and then they must complete a three-year doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program. It is not as rigorous as medical school. During the DPT program, they are trained in musculoskeletal examination, pathology, exercise, and physical modalities used in physical therapy. Physical therapists are certified health professionals who teach patients how to do specific physical therapy exercises.

Role of Physical Therapists and Physiatrists

Because physiatrists completed medical school, they can diagnose a patient’s condition, write prescriptions, and order diagnostic tests. A physiatrist is a licensed physician, so they are legally able to prescribe the physical therapy exercises that should be most beneficial for the patient.

Physiatrists oversee the physical therapy treatment, follow the patient’s progress, and determine whether or not it is effective. If it isn’t, the doctor will prescribe another treatment method that may give better results.

Physical therapists are responsible for actually implementing the treatment. They are trained in the use of various pain management tools and methods according to the prescription of the physiatrist. PTs can also try different techniques and adjust the exercise levels after seeing what the patient can and cannot do.

How Do I Get Started on Medical Rehabilitation?

The first visit you will have is with a physiatrist. The physiatrist will assess your medical history and symptoms, and they will perform a thorough evaluation to determine the safest and most appropriate exercise treatment plan according to your condition and overall health.

Your physical therapy treatment plan will work around your existing health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and orthopedic injuries. Your physiatrist has the power to assemble a team of medical specialists to help restore you to full function.

Only after a consultation with a physiatrist can you begin your physical therapy sessions. From there, you will be seeing more of your physical therapist and less of your physiatrist – but the physiatrist will keep track of how your physical rehabilitation is going.

Physiatry Services in Washington State

Our physiatrists at Lynx Healthcare specialize in the nonsurgical treatment and management of pain and disability due to injury or illness, and their approach is via prescribing specialized exercises and physical therapy to help you get moving properly again.

Our experienced team treats a wide range of health conditions such as nerve compression, hand and wrist pain, pelvic pain, sports-related injuries, and work-related injuries. We use a combination of interventional pain medicine and orthopedic rehabilitation to address your condition holistically. Our goal is to restore function and mobility for a highly improved quality of life.

To schedule an appointment with our physiatrists, please call Lynx Healthcare today at (509) 591-0070 or request a consultation online. We look forward to seeing you and helping you achieve a lifetime of health and wellness!

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