What is Physiatry?

Physiatry focuses on non-surgical physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) for patients who have been disabled as a result of a disease, condition, disorder, or injury.


Our physiatrists focus on a personalized method of treatment to improve their patients’ quality of life — one that involves a comprehensive approach to expand the framework of resources at a patient’s disposal, including Botox® and Acupuncture. As a result, a patient’s recuperation involves every aspect of their lives.

Meet our Team of St. Joseph Hospital Physiatrists

Gregory J. Zuercher, DO
Jie Cheng, MD


What is the difference between physical therapy and physiatry?

Physiatrists and physical therapists treat patients with the same types of conditions. However, physiatrists are physicians who have completed medical school plus four years of residency training.

A common misconception of physiatrists is that they are the ones who are actually performing the therapies. In general, physical therapists are trained in the clinical features of common musculoskeletal pathology, musculoskeletal examination, developing a treatment plan and exercise regimen, and physical modalities (including heat, cold, TENS). Physiatrists, on the other hand, make and manage medical diagnoses and prescribe the therapies that physical therapists will subsequently perform. Despite these differences, both therapists and physiatrists collaborate and communicate to ensure patients are receiving appropriate treatment.

The role of the physiatrist is to manage a patient’s medical issues as they participate through the rehabilitation process. A physiatrist will assess the patient and assure that the patient is medically stable to participate in therapies. Medical issues specific to rehabilitation include pain management, neurogenic bowel and bladder, spasticity management, and disease education. Furthermore, a physiatrist will manage other co-morbid conditions (e.g., hypertension, diabetes, CAD, COPD, etc.) in order to prevent further medical complications.

What conditions do physiatrists treat?

Physiatrists primarily treat conditions of the bones, muscles, joints, and central/peripheral nervous system that affect a person’s ability to function. A physiatrist is trained to manage a variety of disorders/diseases but practitioners often will specialize. Because of the broad spectrum of conditions treated and the comprehensive nature of their training, physiatrists are uniquely-positioned to adapt to new technologies and changing trends in health care.

Areas of focus include:

Examples: Spinal Cord Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease

Pain medicine:
Examples: Chronic Pain Management, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (previously named Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy), Back Pain, Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Musculoskeletal care:
Examples: Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Back Pain and Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

Sports injuries:
Examples: Achilles Tendonitis, Iliotibial Band Syndrome, Turf Toe, Medial & Lateral Epicondylitis, DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis, Rotator Cuff Pathology, Acromioclavicular Separation, Biceps Tendonitis, Stress Fractures, Concussion

Post-operative care:
Examples: Joint Replacement, Organ Transplantation, Left-Ventricular Assistive Devices, Cardiac / Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pediatric functional and developmental disorders:
Examples: Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Spina Bifida, Down Syndrome

Specialized rehabilitation:
Examples: Fine Arts (music, dance, vocal), Cancer, Cardiac, Pulmonary, Family Training (for home care), Pelvic Pain, Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Palliative Care


Source: American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Medicine