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Overview of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R)

What is PM&R?

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) is also called physiatry. It is a medical specialty that focuses on restoring function for a person who has been disabled due to a disease, disorder, or injury.

Physiatry provides integrated, multidisciplinary care aimed at recovery of the whole person. It addresses the person's physical, emotional, medical, vocational, and social needs. A healthcare provider who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation is called a physiatrist.

Physical therapist working with woman on arm stretches.

What is rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation (rehab) is the process of helping a person achieve the highest level of function, independence, and quality of life possible. Rehab does not reverse or undo the damage caused by disease or injury. But it helps restore the person to their best health, functioning, and well-being.

The rehabilitation program

Rehabilitation medicine is designed to meet each person's specific needs. So each program is different. Some general treatment components for rehab programs include:

  • Treating the basic disease and preventing complications

  • Treating the disability and improving function

  • Providing adaptive tools and altering the environment

  • Teaching the person and their family, and helping them adapt to lifestyle changes

The success of rehab depends on many variables, including:

  • The nature and severity of the disease, disorder, or injury

  • The type and degree of any resulting impairments and disabilities

  • The person's overall health

  • Family support

Areas covered in rehab programs may include:

Patient need


Self-care skills, including activities of daily living (ADLs)

Feeding, grooming, bathing, dressing, toileting, and sexual function

Physical care

Nutritional needs, medicine, and skin care

Mobility skills

Walking, transfers, and self-propelling a wheelchair

Respiratory care

Ventilator care, if needed; breathing treatments and exercises to promote lung function

Communication skills

Speech, writing, and alternative methods of communication

Cognitive skills

Memory, concentration, judgment, problem-solving, and organizational skills

Socialization skills

Interacting with others at home and in the community

Vocational training

Work-related skills

Pain management

Medicine and alternative methods of managing pain

Psychological counseling

Identifying problems and solutions with thinking, behavioral, and emotional issues

Family support

Help with adapting to lifestyle changes, financial concerns, and discharge planning


Patient and family education and training about the condition, medical care, and adaptive methods

Understanding rehabilitation terminology

Rehab is needed when a disease and injury cause an impairment. Consider the following:

  • An impairment is a loss of normal function of part of the body, such as paralysis of a leg.

  • Disability occurs when a person can't do an activity in a normal way due to an impairment, such as not being able to walk.

  • A handicap occurs when there are limits that prevent a person with a disability from doing their normal roles, such as not being able to work. A handicap refers to a barrier that may be imposed by society, the environment, or the person's own attitude.

Most people with disabilities are not considered handicapped. They go to school, work, perform family duties, and interact with society fully and capably.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Thomas N Joseph MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2023
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