A physiatrist practices in the field of physiatry—also called physical medicine and rehabilitation—which is a board-certified branch of medicine that specializes in diagnosis, treatment, and management of disease primarily using "physical" means, such as physical therapy and medications. Physiatrists do not perform surgery.

Physiatrists specialize in a wide variety of treatments for the musculoskeletal system—the muscles, bones, and associated nerves, ligaments, tendons, and other structures—and the musculoskeletal disorders that cause pain and/or difficulty with functioning.

A physiatrist can be either a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO). A physiatrist may be referred to as a physiatrist, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, or a PM&R physician.