CHICAGO, Feb. 25, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Representative Gabrielle Giffords' medical rehabilitation from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) has shed light on the medical expertise of rehabilitation physicians. Rehabilitation physicians are nerve, muscle, brain and bone experts who treat injuries or illnesses that affect how you move and function in everyday life. They are also known as physiatrists, one of 24 American Board of Medical Specialties-certified specialties.
Once the emergency and surgical teams have medically stabilized someone with TBI, the rehabilitation physician takes over to begin the task of helping the person regain as much function as possible. That care can begin immediately post-injury – for example, positioning the patient correctly in bed or ensuring that splints are placed correctly. Rehabilitation physicians have the patient begin moving, even in small ways, as quickly as possible. Using their expertise in rehabilitation after injury and illness and assessing the individual effects on each patient, rehabilitation physicians assemble a treatment program customized to that person's individual medical needs.
"We become the team captain," says Steven Flanagan, MD, professor and chairman of the department of rehabilitation medicine, New York University School of Medicine in New York City, explaining how rehabilitation physicians assemble the medical team and coordinate the care provided by health care providers such as physical, occupational, and speech therapists; psychiatrists, social workers, and others.
Recovery after a brain injury is usually measured in months or years rather than days or weeks. Rehabilitation physicians are ideally involved with their brain injury patients for the rest of their lives. "We need to look at brain injury as a chronic disease," says Dr. Flanagan. "Disabilities that result from TBI may affect that patient for the rest of their lives. I never 'discharge' my patients who have a neurological injury. They are my long-term patients who will need to be continually monitored." Another reason for this longstanding medical care is that patients who have sustained brain injuries should always be monitored for any cognitive decline. They can also be more susceptible to other future medical issues. Trained in this area, rehabilitation physicians are uniquely qualified to identify potential problems related to living with a TBI and to treat their patients both acutely and chronically.
The public may be hoping for a quick recovery for patients like Rep. Giffords, however rehabilitation physicians caution that brain injury rehabilitation is a long process. At this early stage of Rep. Giffords' rehabilitation, it is impossible to say what her final recovery will be. Dr. Flanagan explains that outcomes from brain injuries vary greatly - no two patients are alike in how the brain injury disables them or how they may recover from them.
While recovery from brain injury is quite variable, a person with a severe brain injury will typically experience lasting changes in physical ability, cognition, or behavior. This may or may not be easily noticeable to the casual observer, and people with TBI have often been referred to as "the walking wounded." They may appear physically fine, yet they are not able to return to their desired societal roles because of difficulties with cognitive skills or ability to control their emotions. It is for these reasons that rehabilitation physicians continue their relationships with patients who have sustained even mild brain injuries.
For more information or to interview a rehabilitation physician, please contact Joanne Constantine, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) at 847-737-6014. AAPM&R is the national medical specialty society of more than 8,000 physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians, also called physiatrists. Visit www.aapmr.org for more information.
Contact: Joanne Constantine, 847-737-6014
SOURCE American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation