For children with cerebral palsy, brain injuries, and other conditions affecting nerves and muscles, a pediatric physiatrist is a doctor who can help make a difference when it comes to reaching milestones. Hannah Aura Shoval, MD, Chief of Pediatric Physiatry and part of the Atlantic Medical Group explains more about what she does and how her work is all about treating the whole child.

NJF: What is a physiatrist?

“Physiatrists are physicians specializing in neuro-musculoskeletal medicine, and we work on improving function and quality of life,” explains Dr. Shoval, who joined Goryeb Children’s Hospital this spring.

There are only a few hundred pediatric physiatrists in the United States. “But when they find us, patients’ and families’ faces light up as they say, ‘I’ve been asking for this my whole life,’” says Dr. Shoval. She is board-certified in physiatry, pediatric rehabilitation medicine and brain injury medicine by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

NJF: What goals does a physiatrist work toward with kids?

A pediatric physiatrist “works with kids to develop milestones — helping them stand, walk, use their arms for activities and speak,” she says. “Where we really shine is with kids who have an underlying neurological disorder that affects their muscles and bones. In particular, we are specialists in cerebral palsy, brain injuries and other conditions of nerves and muscles, which can affect multiple systems and make daily activities difficult. A physiatrist teases out what problems are caused by muscle, bone, and nerve, and then uses this information to diagnose the cause of the problem and prescribe treatments. We work to treat the child as a whole, frequently coordinating care with other specialties.”

NJF: What does a visit to a physiatrist entail?

Dr. Shoval’s examination will include a detailed history and physical exam to fully understand your concerns and may include X-rays, MRI scans and other tests. Treatment could involve a combination of medications, specific exercises, therapies, braces, wheelchairs or walkers and injections. Dr. Shoval has extensive experience treating cerebral palsy, the leading cause of motor problems in children, and has published research on treatments for it. “There is so much we can do for these kids. I especially love preventing common bone, skin, or nerve problems in children with cerebral palsy, so that they never become an issue in the first place,” she says. “There are very few people who can do the injections that allow these kids to keep functioning and be pain-free.”

NJF: How does treatment integrate into children’s lives?

Dr. Shoval is a leader in adaptive sports for kids, which are all about “finding ways people can participate,” she says. “It can be life-changing. We come up with adaptations so kids can ride a bike or play a sport, and we try to continually push them to be their best. That’s our goal in physiatry: to allow children to reach their full potential.”

NJF: How can families get in touch with you?

Dr. Shoval and Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation are part of Atlantic Medical Group, a multispecialty network of health care clinicians. For more information, visit Dr. Shoval can be reached at 973-971-6505.