Physical medicine and rehabilitationRehabilitation; Physical rehab; Physiatry
Physical medicine and rehabilitation is a medical specialty that helps 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
A stroke occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops. A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack. " If blood flow is cut off for longer th...
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).
- Chronic pain, including back and neck pain
Low back pain refers to pain that you feel in your lower back. You may also have back stiffness, decreased movement of the lower back, and difficult...
- Major bone or joint surgery, severe burns, or limb amputation
Burns commonly occur by direct or indirect contact with heat, electric current, radiation, or chemical agents. Burns can lead to cell death....
- Severe arthritis becoming worse over time
- Severe weakness after recovering from a serious illness (such as infection, heart failure or respiratory failure)
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is no longer able to pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body efficiently. This causes symptom...
- Spinal cord injury or brain injury
Spinal cord injury
Spinal cord trauma is damage to the spinal cord. It may result from direct injury to the cord itself or indirectly from disease of the nearby bones,...
Children may need rehabilitation services for:
- Down syndrome or other genetic disorders
Down syndrome is a genetic condition in which a person has 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46.
- 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
People 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 person leaves the hospital, treatment may continue at a special inpatient rehabilitation center. A person 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.
Skilled nursing facility
When you no longer need the amount of care provided in the hospital, the hospital will begin the process to discharge you. Most people hope to go dir...
Many people who are recovering eventually go home. Therapy is then continued at the provider's office or in another setting. You may visit the office of your physical medicine physician and other health professionals. Sometimes, a therapist will make home visits. Family members or other caregivers must also be available to help.
WHAT REHABILITATION DOES
The goal of rehabilitation therapy is to teach people how to take care of themselves as much as possible. The focus is often on daily tasks such as eating, bathing, using the bathroom and moving from a wheelchair to a bed.
Sometimes, the goal is more challenging, such as restoring full function to one or more parts of the body.
Rehabilitation experts use many tests to evaluate a person's problems and monitor their recovery.
A full rehabilitation program and treatment plan may be needed to help with medical, physical, social, emotional, and work-related problems, including:
- 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 are doctors, other 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.
Other health professionals include occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language therapists, social workers, vocational counselors, nurses, psychologists, and dietitians (nutritionists).
Cifu DX, ed. Braddom's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016.
Frontera WR, ed. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015.
Review Date: 10/8/2015
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor in Residence, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.