Physical medicine and rehabilitation is a medical specialty which can help people regain body functions they lost due to medical conditions or injury. This term is often used to describe the whole medical team, not just the doctors.
Rehabilitation can help many body functions, including bowel and bladder problems, chewing and swallowing, problems thinking or reasoning, movement or mobility, speech, and language.
Many injuries or medical conditions can affect your ability to function:
- Brain disorders, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, or cerebral palsy
- Chronic pain, including back and neck pain
- Major bone or joint surgery, severe burns, or limb amputation
- Severe arthritis becoming worse over time
- Severe weakness after recovering from a serious illness (such as infection, heart failure or respiratory failure)
- Spinal cord injury or brain injury
Children may need rehabilitation services for:
- Down syndrome or other genetic disorders
- Intellectual disability
- Muscular dystrophy or other neuromuscular disorders
- Sensory deprivation disorder, autism or developmental disorders
- Speech disorders and language problems
Physical medicine and rehabilitation services also include sports medicine and injury prevention.
WHERE REHABILITATION IS DONE
A patient can have rehabilitation in many settings. It will often begin while they are still in the hospital, recovering from an illness or injury. Sometimes it begins before someone has planned surgery.
After the patient leaves the hospital, treatment may continue at a special inpatient rehabilitation center. A patient may be transferred to this type of center if they have significant orthopedic problems, burns, a spinal cord injury or severe brain injury from stroke or trauma.
Rehabilitation often also takes place in a skilled nursing facility or rehabilitation center outside of a hospital.
Many people who are recovering eventually go home to continue their therapy. You may visit the office of your physical medicine physician and other health professionals. Sometimes, a therapist will come to your home. Family members or other caregivers must also be available to help.
WHAT REHABILITATION DOES
The goal of rehabilitation therapy can be small or large. A patient may need to learn how to take care of themselves as much as possible, especially to do tasks such as eating, bathing, using the bathroom and moving themselves from a wheelchair to a bed.
They may need to restore full function to one or more parts of their body.
Rehabilitation experts use many tests to evaluate a patient's problems and monitor their recovery.
The patient may need a full rehabilitation program and treatment plan to help with medical, physical, social, emotional and professional problems. In order to help the patient to recover, the rehabilitation focus often goes beyond the part of the body that was injured.
The patient may need:
- Therapy for specific medical problems
- Advice about setting up their home to maximize their function and safety
- Help with wheelchairs, splints and other medical equipment
- Help with financial and social issues
Family and caregivers may also need help adjusting to their loved one's condition and knowing where to find resources in the community.
THE REHABILITATION TEAM
Physical medicine and rehabilitation is a team approach. Team members will be doctors, non-physician health professionals, the patient, and their family or caregivers.
Physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors receive 4 or more extra years of training in this type of care after they have finished medical school. They are also called physiatrists.
Other types of doctors that may be members of a rehabilitation team include neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, psychiatrists and primary care doctors.
Non-physician health professionals may be occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language therapists, social workers, vocational counselors, nurses, psychologists and dietitians or nutritionists.
Update Date 2/10/2014
Updated by: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.