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Rehabilitation is a treatment or treatments designed to facilitate the process of recovery from injury, illness, or disease to as normal a condition as possible.


The purpose of rehabilitation is to restore some or all of the patient's physical, sensory, and mental capabilities that were lost due to injury, illness, or disease. Rehabilitation includes assisting the patient to compensate for deficits that cannot be reversed medically. It is prescribed after many types of injury, illness, or disease, including amputations, arthritis, cancer, cardiac disease, neurological problems, orthopedic injuries, spinal cord injuries, stroke, and traumatic brain injuries. The Institute of Medicine has estimated that as many as 14% of all Americans may be disabled at any given time.


Rehabilitation should be carried out only by qualified therapists. Exercises and other physical interventions must take into account the patient's deficit. An example of a deficit is the loss of a limb.


A proper and adequate rehabilitation program can reverse many disabling conditions or can help patients cope with deficits that cannot be reversed by medical care. Rehabilitation addresses the patient's physical, psychological, and environmental needs. It is achieved by restoring the patient's physical functions and/or modifying the patient's physical and social environment. The main types of rehabilitation are physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
Each rehabilitation program is tailored to the individual patient's needs and can include one or more types of therapy. The patient's physician usually coordinates the efforts of the rehabilitation team, which can include physical, occupational, speech, or other therapists; nurses; engineers; physiatrists (physical medicine); psychologists; orthotists (makes devices such as braces to straighten out curved or poorly shaped bones); prosthetists (a therapist who makes artificial limbs or protheses); and vocational counselors. Family members are often actively involved in the patient's rehabilitation program.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy helps the patient restore the use of muscles, bones, and the nervous system through the use of heat, cold, massage, whirlpool baths, ultrasound, exercise, and other techniques. It seeks to relieve pain, improve strength and mobility, and train the patient to perform important everyday tasks. Physical therapy may be prescribed to rehabilitate a patient after amputations, arthritis, burns, cancer, cardiac disease, cervical and lumbar dysfunction, neurological problems, orthopedic injuries, pulmonary disease, spinal cord injuries, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and other injuries/illnesses. The duration of the physical therapy program varies depending on the injury/illness being treated and the patient's response to therapy.
Exercise is the most widely used and best known type of physical therapy. Depending on the patient's condition, exercises may be performed by the patient alone or with the therapist's help, or with the therapist moving the patient's limbs. Exercise equipment for physical therapy could include an exercise table or mat, a stationary bicycle, walking aids, a wheelchair, practice stairs, parallel bars, and pulleys and weights.
Heat treatment, applied with hot-water compresses, infrared lamps, short-wave radiation, high frequency electrical current, ultrasound, paraffin wax, or warm baths, is used to stimulate the patient's circulation, relax muscles, and relieve pain. Cold treatment is applied with ice packs or cold-water soaking. Soaking in a whirlpool can ease muscle spasm pain and help strengthen movements. Massage aids circulation, helps the patient relax, relieves pain and muscle spasms, and reduces swelling. Very low strength electrical currents applied through the skin stimulate muscles and make them contract, helping paralyzed or weakened muscles respond again.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy helps the patient regain the ability to do normal everyday tasks. This may be achieved by restoring old skills or teaching the patient new skills to adjust to disabilities through adaptive equipment, orthotics, and modification of the patient's home environment. Occupational therapy may be prescribed to rehabilitate a patient after amputation, arthritis, cancer, cardiac disease, head injuries, neurological injuries, orthopedic injuries, pulmonary disease, spinal cord disease, stroke, and other injuries/illnesses. The duration of the occupational therapy program varies depending on the injury/illness being treated and the patient's response to therapy.
Occupational therapy includes learning how to use devices to assist in walking (artificial limbs, canes, crutches, walkers), getting around without walking (wheelchairs or motorized scooters), or moving from one spot to another (boards, lifts, and bars). The therapist will visit the patient's home and analyze what the patient can and cannot do. Suggestions on modifications to the home, such as rearranging furniture or adding a wheelchair ramp, will be made. Health aids to bathing and grooming could also be recommended.

Speech therapy

Speech therapy helps the patient correct speech disorders or restore speech. Speech therapy may be prescribed to rehabilitate a patient after a brain injury, cancer, neuromuscular diseases, stroke, and other injuries/illnesses. The duration of the speech therapy program varies depending on the injury/illness being treated and the patient's response to therapy.
Performed by a speech pathologist, speech therapy involves regular meetings with the therapist in an individual or group setting and home exercises. To strengthen muscles, the patient might be asked to say words, smile, close his mouth, or stick out his tongue. Picture cards may be used to help the patient remember everyday objects and increase his vocabulary. The patient might use picture boards of everyday activities or objects to communicate with others. Workbooks might be used to help the patient recall the names of objects and practice reading, writing, and listening. Computer programs are available to help sharpen speech, reading, recall, and listening skills.

Other types of therapists

Inhalation therapists, audiologists, and registered dietitians are other types of therapists. Inhalation therapists help the patient learn to use respirators and other breathing aids to restore or support breathing. Audiologists help diagnose the patient's hearing loss and recommend solutions. Dietitians provide dietary advice to help the patient recover from or avoid specific problems or diseases.

Rehabiltation centers

Rehabilitation services are provided in a variety of settings including clinical and office practices, hospitals, skilled-care nursing homes, sports medicine clinics, and some health maintenance organizations. Some therapists make home visits. Advice on choosing the appropriate type of therapy and therapist is provided by the patient's medical team.



National Rehabilitation Association. 633 S. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314. (703) 836-0850.
National Rehabilitation Information Center. 8455 Colesville Road, Suite 935, Silver Spring, MD 20910. (800) 34-NARIC.
Rehabilitation International. 25 East 21st St., New York, NY 10010. (212) 420-1500.

Key terms

Orthotist — A health care professional who is skilled in making and fitting orthopedic appliances.
Physiatrist — A physician who specializes in physical medicine.
Prosthetist — A health care professional who is skilled in making and fitting artificial parts (prosthetics) for the human body.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the process of restoring a person's ability to live and work as normally as possible after a disabling injury or illness. It aims to help the patient achieve maximum possible physical and psychologic fitness and regain the ability to be independent. It offers assistance with the learning or relearning of skills needed in everyday activities, with occupational training and guidance and with psychologic readjustment.

Rehabilitation is an integral part of convalescence. Proper food, medication, and hygiene and suitable exercise provide the physical basis for recovery. The patient is encouraged to be active physically and mentally to the extent recommended by the health care team. Nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and vocational training are used extensively in the rehabilitation of the severely handicapped.
cancer rehabilitation a process by which individuals in their own environments are assisted to achieve optimal functioning within the limits imposed by cancer.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


Restoration, following disease, illness, or injury, of the ability to function in a normal or near-normal manner.
[L. rehabilitare, pp. -tatus, to make fit, fr. re- + habilitas, ability]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


The return of function after illness or injury, usually understood to occur with the help of specialised medical professionals—e.g., physical therapists, occupational therapists, cognitive behavioural therapists.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.


The return to function after illness or injury, often with the help of specialized medical professionals. See Esthetic rehabilitation.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Therapeutic restoration, after disease, illness, or injury, of the ability to function in a normal or near normal manner.
[L. rehabilito, pp. -tatus, to make fit, fr. re- + habilitas, ability]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


1. Restoration of the physically, mentally or socially disabled to a normally functional life.
2. The specialty of physical medicine which is concerned with such restoration.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005


Restoration, following disease, illness, or injury, of the ability to function in a normal or near-normal manner.
[L. rehabilitare, pp. -tatus, to make fit, fr. re- + habilitas, ability]
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012

Patient discussion about rehabilitation

Q. Is it possible to help someone be rehabilitated from alcohol? I want to help my father but he just wont go to rehab. I know he has to want it first and he does- but he doesnt like the whole social thing around it. I guess I could do it by myself- at home- but how??

A. i agree with scooter, good advises. of course AA meetings have great affect. but it'll be hard to convince him to go if he refuses to take control of his problem. try getting a good friend of him to help you. it might do the trick.

More discussions about rehabilitation
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References in periodicals archive ?
Duque said the project was launched to address the need for more rehabilitation centers for Filipino drug users.
Others patients have also come forward recently, and, according to the report, said that they experienced similar incidents of sexual abuse at other rehabilitation centers in other provinces, such as Diyarbakyr and MuE-.
Shamsh Kassim Lakha said that he had sent the draft of the rehabilitation center to Geneva.
According to CARF, Wenatchee Valley Hospital's Rehabilitation Center treats patients with dignity and respect and provides multiple opportunities for patients to try newly learned skills in community environments.
The rehabilitation center Jaunkemeri also has a possibility to do the Nordic walking and spend time by the sea.
Summary: Five Rehabilitation Centers for Torture Victims operate in the region
The post-prison rehabilitation center, run by social workers and a unit in charge of job-seeking, problem-solving and medical monitoring, is the third after those of Casablanca and Sale.
Defense Agency chief Gen Nakatani visited a rehabilitation center in Kitahiroshima, western Hokkaido, on Monday and apologized for the center being hit by shells after an F-4 fighter jet accidentally fired nearly 200 rounds of ammunition during an air drill in June.
"Because there are so many questions on other aspects of functioning, staff may not notice that a person scored high on depression questions," says Eran Metzger, MD, associate director of psychiatry service at Boston's Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged, a chronic care hospital with 725 long term care beds.
"But he would find it humiliating not to be trusted and be restrained from doing anything that might jeopardize his safety." What his son didn't know was that this had been the philosophy of Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged long before regulations prohibited this type of restraint.
Too often, people with spinal cord injuries run into significant problems after they are discharged from a rehabilitation center. The reality of having a permanent disability sets in and there is no one available with a similar disability in whom one can confide.
Greve returned to Cleveland in 1933 as Executive Secretary of the Association for the Crippled and Disabled, an organization that would eventually change its name to the Cleveland Rehabilitation Center. In various capacities, Greve oversaw the Cleveland Center for the following twenty years and it was during that time that the organization grew to be a large multiservice facility.

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