Understanding Medical Rehabilitation

Medical rehabilitation focuses primarily on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disabilities to help individuals live as independently as possible. Successful rehabilitation is influenced greatly by the positive belief that individuals can make up for the loss of one sense or ability through training, practice and focusing on their abilities rather than on their disability.

Medical rehabilitation involves treatment and training programs tailored to meet each client's physical, social, emotional and vocational needs. Professionals involved in the development and implementation of these programs include physicians, nurses, therapists, psychologists, social workers, vocational counselors, teachers and other specialists linked through one or more agencies. Working together with clients and their families, these professionals help to restore functioning lost as a result of a wide range of disabilities, from temporary conditions that inhibit mobility, such as lower back pain, to permanent disabilities resulting in complex cognitive impairment, such as traumatic brain injury.


Rehabilitation may include:

Physical therapy: Services that focus on enhancing or restoring mobility that may have been lost due to trauma, disease, aging or congenital abnormality. Therapeutic exercise, physical agents such as heat or cold, electrical stimulation, assistive or adaptive devices and specialized manual techniques are used to encourage independence.

Occupational therapy: A major health service that focuses on developing a child or adult's ability to perform activities of daily life, including bathing, dressing and feeding, incorporating the use of adaptive methods and devices, sensorimotor rehabilitation, purposeful activity and fine motor skill development to promote independence in self-care, work and play or leisure skills.

Speech and hearing therapy: Services that address articulation disorders, language delay and stuttering in children; care for adults who experience communication disorders, stuttering and cognitive impairment; improvement of oral-motor, swallowing and respiratory skills; and augmentative and alternative communication systems for individuals who cannot rely on speech as a means of communication.

Assistive technology: Also known as rehabilitative engineering, assistive technology provides expertise in the recommendation of commercial products, as well as the creation of custom equipment to best achieve each individual's highest level of independence. Assistive devices include: measures or aids, such as communication boards, artificial limbs, hearing aids, and cochlear implants, intended to compensate for a loss of function or a functional limitation.

Recreational therapy: Services that incorporate rehabilitation sessions for people with disabilities into fun, everyday activities. Programs provide leisure time and recreation such as individual and team sports, exercise and craft classes, adapted aquatics, social events, outings and camping.

Outpatient medical rehabilitation, social work, nursing and specialty services are also included in rehabilitation.

A typical rehabilitation program may include:

  • Screening
  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Goal-setting
  • Medical care and treatment
  • Social, psychological and other types of counseling and assistance
  • Training in self-care activities
  • Fitting of assistive devices
  • Specialized education services
  • Vocational guidance, training and placement, follow-up and referral 

How family and friends can help:

  • Participate actively in the design and arrangement of services deemed necessary
  • Encourage and assist in keeping appointments and faithfully practicing exercises prescribed for home
  • Provide support and understanding rather than pity
  • Praise effort and accomplishment
  • Give reassurance love and purpose
  • Support rights to, or opportunities for, education, employment and social-cultural experiences