Physiatrist vs. Physical Therapist differences (2023)

Home » Physiatrist vs. Physical Therapist differences (2023)

Unsure of the difference between a physiatrist and a physical therapist?

Both professions help patients recover from injuries, but there are some key differences.

Let’s discuss the duties of both professionals and what sets them apart. We will also provide information on how to choose the right professional for your needs.

Physiatrist vs. Physical Therapist

Physiatrists are medical doctors who have completed training in the medical specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Physical therapists do not need to be medical doctors. Physiatrists often work in inpatient settings such as hospitals, while physical therapists more typically work in outpatient settings such as clinics and private practices.

Furthermore, physiatrists focus on diagnosing and treating patients with conditions that impact the musculoskeletal system and nerves, while physical therapists focus primarily on optimizing patients’ movement and function.

Physiotherapist vs. Physiatrist duties

The duties of a physiatrist include diagnosing injuries, developing treatment plans, and prescribing medications. They also guide how to prevent injuries. Physiatrists often work with other healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists and occupational therapists, to develop comprehensive treatment plans.

Physical therapists help patients regain strength and mobility after an injury or surgery. They use exercises, manual therapies, and other therapies to relieve pain and improve range of motion (ROM). Physical therapists also teach patients how to prevent future injuries.

physiatrist doing treatments
physiatrists can diagnose injuries and prescribe treatments and physical exercises

As the healthcare industry evolves, physiatrists are expected to continue to focus on diagnosing and treating injuries, and problem-solving difficult medical cases.

Physical therapists will continue to play an important role in the rehabilitation, but they will also increasingly focus on helping patients prevent injuries. Especially as new science about aging and the role of active, healthy lifestyles comes to the forefront of good healthcare.

Physiatrist vs. Medical Doctor

A physiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. A medical doctor can be any type of doctor, such as a family physician, an internist, or a pediatrician.

On a similar note, you can read our article Physical therapy vs. Physiotherapy explaining the ins-and-outs of these professions.

Why do physical therapists call themselves doctors

Physical therapists are not medical doctors but may use the honorary title “Doctor”, similar to Chiropractors or Osteopaths. In the United States, physical therapists must have a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited institution.

What does a physiatrist do for back pain?

For back pain, a physiatrist can prescribe medications, and administer physical therapy, joint injections, and nerve block injections. Physiatrists generally can not perform surgery for back pain but may refer to an orthopedist if surgery is necessary.

physiatrist assesses lower back pain
A physiatrist may have a more medical approach to low back pain than a physiotherapist

Who to see, Physiatrist or Physical Therapist?

If you are unsure which professional is right for you, schedule an appointment with a physical therapist first. During your appointment, discuss your needs and goals. Based on your conversation, you can decide which professional is best suited to help you achieve your health goals.

Have you seen a Physiatrist for medical treatment or physical rehab? What was your experience like?

Comment below so others in our community at physickle can get an idea.

Home » Physiatrist vs. Physical Therapist differences (2023)

Author Bio

Dr Jason Whealing headshot

Dr. Jason Whealing is a Chiropractor with extensive experience across the UK and Australia. He is passionate about family care and injury management. The cases Jason works with daily include back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, sciatica, knee pain, shoulder pain, headaches and migraine.

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