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Pain doctors vs. brain doctors--the difference between physiatrists and neurologists essentially comes down to this. Whereas physiatrists work on pain issues throughout the body, neurologists focus on neurological disorders, which affect the brain or other parts of the nervous system. Physiatrists and neurologists often work hand in hand, serving as consultants for each other’s patients.
A physiatrist diagnoses and treats pain, working with the patient to develop a treatment plan, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Their goal is to not only treat the problem area but the whole person by restoring maximum function to the person. The loss may be caused by illness or disabling condition, notes the AAPM&R. A physiatrist does not perform surgery.
A neurologist diagnoses, treats and manages disorders of the brain and nervous system, according to the American Academy of Neurology. A neurologist also does not perform surgery. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, neurological disorders may affect people of any age, race or gender.
According to the American Academy of Neurology, a neurologist frequently sees patients for treatment of stroke, headache, epilepsy, tremor, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, brain and spinal cord injuries or neurological disorders. A physiatrist will see patients who have prosthetics, back pain, brain injuries, neck pain, wrist pain, osteoporosis, spinal cord injuries, sports-related injuries, pelvic pain or work-related injuries, according to AAPM&R. They will also see patients for cardiac, geriatric and pediatric rehabilitation.
Both neurologists and physiatrists are medical physicians. Both undergo similar educational course work. To become a doctor, each must first complete an undergraduate degree, medical school, internship and residency, according to the American Academy of Neurology. It is the internships and residencies that set the two types of doctors apart.
Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention
According to the American Academy of Neurology, neurologists will use MRIs, CAT scans, EEGs, spinal taps and other diagnostic procedures to help determine the cause of the neurological symptoms a person is experiencing. On the other hand, the AAPM&R states that a physiatrist focuses on prevention and treatment of pain through working with a medical team, which includes neurologists and physical therapists. The physiatrist will also develop a treatment plan with the patient, to help patients stay active at any age, not just when something is ailing them.
Mary Beth Swayne is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in newspapers including the Greater Philadelphia Newspaper network. She has also written for seven magazines and non-profit organization publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Pennsylvania State University.