Got Pain? Numbness? Tingling?
A Physiatrist Can Help!

If you have aches, numbness or tingling that are impacting your physical functioning, figuring out how and where to start on your treatment plan can be confusing. Being evaluated by a physiatrist is a great place to turn.

What is a physiatrist, and how do they help patients manage these symptoms?

NJ Monthly reached out to Gautam Malhotra, MD, a physiatrist at Altair Health, for insights and tips on how to get to the bottom of what’s really going on… efficiently and effectively … and likely, non-surgically. Dr. Malhotra is quadruple board-certified in electrodiagnostic medicine, neuromuscular medicine, brain injury medicine and physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) – also known as “physiatry.”

Q: What is physiatry?

Physiatry – a relatively younger medical subspecialty that addresses a wide variety of conditions affecting the nervous and musculoskeletal systems – focuses on restoring an individual’s function, independence and quality of life. Physiatrists use many tools and partner with members of the patient’s healthcare team to restore function and recover the whole person.

Q: How do physiatrists help patients?

Personally, at Altair Health, I use state-of-the-art, evidence-based approaches to diagnose, treat and restore function for patients suffering from musculoskeletal and neuromuscular issues. I start by triaging the patient, looking at each individual holistically. I evaluate the entire musculoskeletal system and the relationships of all moving body parts to determine the root cause of difficult-to-diagnose pain. Very often, a painful part of the body is just an innocent bystander, compensating for an older injury or an issue elsewhere in the body.

Once I identify the cause, I spend as much time as it takes for a patient to understand what I’ve discovered. I then design a treatment plan emphasizing education and non-surgical options – which are effective for most patients. While I tend to limit the use of medications and invasive procedures, if further intervention or surgery is needed, I work closely with the patient’s neurosurgeon to develop the best path forward.

Q: What other types of pain do physiatrists treat?

We treat patients who experience numbness, decreased or burning sensation, tingling, radiating pain or muscle cramping anywhere in the body. I can help an elderly lady who is recovering from spinal stenosis get back to volunteering … as well as the professional athlete who suffered a cervical spine fracture get back to dunking.

Q: How can the source of pain be identified?

electrodiagnostic (EDX) testing

Your nerves and muscles constantly emit electrical discharges. When unhealthy, their discharges change. During electrodiagnostic (EDX) tests that assess the health of muscles and the nerve cells that control them, we can see and hear these signals using special equipment.

EDX assessments leverage Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS) and Electromyography (EMG) to determine if muscles and nerves in one part of the body or throughout the body are working properly. NCS stimulates the nerves at different points with small electric shocks, artificially activating them to measure their function. The EMG exam involves inserting very fine needles into several muscles. The needle has a microscopic electrode that picks up both normal and abnormal electrical signals given off by a muscle. The results inform your treating team, empowering them to prescribe the best and most appropriate treatment plan.