Finding the right health care provider to treat your fibromyalgia can be a very challenging process. Not only are there dozens of different types of medical specialists to choose from, few are actually familiar with the terrible symptoms caused by fibromyalgia syndrome. This leaves many fibromyalgia patients suffering needlessly. In the past few decades, though, there has been a surge in the number of fibromyalgia specialists out there. If you are suffering from fibromyalgia aches and pains, a physiatrist may be one specialist that can help you.
What is a Physiatrist?
A physiatrist is a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). Physiatrists are specially trained to diagnose, manage, and treat symptoms of acute and chronic pain. They also treat injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems. Physiatrists generally practice out of hospitals, private clinics, and rehabilitation centers. They offer comprehensive, non-surgical treatment programs that help to treat your whole body, not just your areas of pain.
Qualifications of a Physiatrist
In order to become a physiatrist, you must undergo years of education and training. All physiatrists must first complete four years of undergraduate study at a college or university. They must then complete four years of medical school, receiving either their M.D. or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy). To become physiatrists, these doctors must then complete four additional years of training in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation. After passing a rigorous written and oral exam, physiatrists are then certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
What Can a Physiatrist Treat?
Physiatrists are trained to diagnose and treat a number of different injuries and illnesses. From minor aches and pains to chronic diseases, physiatrists have the in-depth knowledge required to effectively treat many medical conditions. In particular, physiatrists often treat:
- muscle injuries and sprains
- low back pain
- neck pain
- multiple sclerosis
- brain injuries, including stroke
Can a Physiatrist Help Fibromyalgia Patients?
Next to pain specialists, physiatrists are one of the leading medical specialists when it comes to treating fibromyalgia. This is because of their understanding of both the neurological and musculoskeletal systems in your body. Because fibromyalgia involves both of these systems, a physiatrist has the knowledge required to make educated treatment recommendations for fibromyalgia sufferers.
Physiatrists also make excellent fibromyalgia health care providers because they offer comprehensive treatment programs directed at caring for your whole body. And because fibromyalgia syndrome doesn’t just affect one part of your body, these treatment programs can work wonders. Physiatrists are also qualified to take a leadership role in the overall treatment of your fibromyalgia. Physiatrists can help to put together a team consisting of a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and a pain specialist to help improve your overall function and quality of life.
Tests Performed by Physiatrists
In order to get a better picture of your pain, physiatrists rely on imaging tests to help make accurate diagnoses and treatment decisions. In particular, physiatrists rely on electrodiagnostic studies to provide information about how your nerves and muscles are working inside of your body. Electrodiagnostic studies can locate areas of weakness and numbness, or pain and cramping. Common electrodiagnostic studies include:
- EMG (Electromyography)
- NCS (Nerve Conduction Studies)
- SSEP (Somatosensory Evoked Potentials)
What to Expect When You See A Physiatrist
At your first appointment, your physiatrist will take a detailed medical history from you and will ask you to describe your symptoms in detail. You will be asked how your symptoms have affected your quality of life and your physical function. Your physiatrist will also perform a physical exam, which may include palpation or massage of particular areas of your body. Diagnostic tests can also be performed in order to locate any muscles or nerves that may be functioning irregularly. By performing these exams, your physiatrist will be able to get a better picture of your injuries and pain.
Your physiatrist may come up with a treatment plan right away or decide to consult with another physiatrist before offering treatment. Physiatrists offer comprehensive treatment programs that address the whole body, not just the areas affected by pain or stiffness. Treatment programs typically involve:
- pain medications
- trigger point injections
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
Finding a Physiatrist
Finding a physiatrist is usually fairly straightforward – just ask your general practitioner or regular health care provider for a referral to one in your area, or contact your local hospital for information. If you are having trouble finding a physiatrist, try contacting the board responsible for their certification (in the United States it is the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation).