The role of physiatry in treating ET

By: Sara S. Salles, DO

As the population ages, as diseases disable to a greater degree, as individuals survive once-fatal conditions, and as quality of life becomes an increasing concern, we see physiatry (fizz-ee-at’-tree) moving closer to the forefront of medicine.

Physiatry is the practice of physical and rehabilitation medicine, and is led by a physician called a physiatrist. The focus of the specialty is maintaining and restoring the ability to engage in everyday activities and tasks by treating problems that affect all body systems. Working with the psysiatrist is a team of physical, occupational, and speech therapists that assesses individual problems and makes therapy recommendations.

In working with a person with ET, the rehabilitation team determines tremor severity, co-existing disease, current drug therapy, and response to previous therapy. Appropriate treatment plans are then recommended, including the use of adaptive devices that allow the individual to continue and increase daily activity, thus improving quality of life.

Depending upon the severity of the tremor, some individuals with ET will need to re-learn activities using Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT). This involves constraining the tremor-affected arm to force use of the unaffected or less-affected arm. In general, CIMT is time-consuming and can be frustrating, but it has the potential to deliver great results as demonstrated by stroke survivors.

In addition to therapy sessions, all persons with ET are encouraged to remain physically active and to maintain healthy lifestyles to avoid further medical problems.