Physiatry: Your questions (and answers) for pain

Gregory Burkard Jr., DO is an interventional pain and sports medicine physiatrist who recently joined Tahoe Orthopedics and Sports Medicine.

Natasha Schue: What exactly does a physiatrist do?

Dr. Burkard: ​​I see and treat people living with pain. Pain can be caused by one or several factors. Most patients I see have pain from sports injuries, overuse injuries and accidents that unfortunately resulted in functional disabilities.

N.S.: Why did you decide to become a physiatrist?

Dr. Burkard: ​​I like how a physiatrist considers the whole body in addressing a patient’s pain and injuries. For example, if someone experiences knee pain when they run or walk, it may be more than the knee joint. It could also be the patient’s biomechanics, low back, hips, ankles, IT bands, leg muscles or other underlying issues. I have the training to help diagnose the pain generator and develop a comprehensive approach to overcome the pain and ailment.

N.S.: What kind of training did you do to become a physiatrist?

Dr. Burkard: ​A physiatrist is a physician who completes training in a residency program called physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R). Like other physicians, I earned my medical degree and completed a specialized residency training program. My physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) residency was a total of four years long where I gained a wide set of skills in treating patients with multiple issues, injuries and disabilities that stem from the musculoskeletal or nervous system. Afterward, I further concentrated and specialized in a one-year fellowship that focused on interventional pain and sports medicine to help cultivate my skills to take care of any patient that walks into my clinic searching for treatment.

N.S.: How did your training prepare you?

Dr. Burkard: Training in interventional pain and sports medicine gave me the skill set to take care of patients with all kinds of injuries to the musculoskeletal system, including the back, neck, knees, shoulders and any other painful joints.

N.S.: What is your philosophy on treating pain?

Dr. Burkard: ​I want to decrease my patients’ pain, help restore muscle and skeletal function and improve their quality of life. I do this by making an accurate diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan individualized for each patient.

N.S.: What kinds of treatment plans do you recommend?

Dr. Burkard: ​There are lots of nonsurgical plans and strategies I use to help diagnose and treat patients. This may include use of medications as well as managing therapies, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, cognitive behavioral therapy or aquatic therapy. In addition, I have training in nerve conduction studies and musculoskeletal ultrasound to help diagnose nerve and soft tissue injuries as well as a variety of ultrasound and x-ray guided injections to help patients manage their pain.

N.S.: Can a physiatrist do surgery?

Dr. Burkard: ​As a physiatrist, I don’t perform any major surgeries, but I do consider all treatment and procedure options. Some examples of procedure options I perform are musculoskeletal ultrasounds, x-ray procedures for spines and joints, radiofrequency ablations/neurotomy for spine arthritis, spinal cord stimulators, joint and tendon injections and nerve conduction studies. If surgery is the best option for the patient, I’ll refer to a surgeon who can address that patient’s specific medical needs.

N.S.: How can I see a physiatrist?

Dr. Burkard: ​A physiatrist appointment requires a referral from your primary care provider. If you’re experiencing muscle, joint, nerve or skeletal pain, talk with your primary care provider about your symptoms and request a referral.

Dr. Burkard currently see patients at Tahoe Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Carson City and the Barton Center for Orthopedics and Wellness in South Lake Tahoe. To learn more about orthopedic and physiatry services available, call 775-783-3065​​ or go to


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