What is rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation is care that can help you get back, keep, or improve abilities that you need for daily life. These abilities may be physical, mental, and/or cognitive (thinking and learning). You may have lost them because of a disease or injury, or as a side effect from a medical treatment. Rehabilitation can improve your daily life and functioning.
Who needs rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation is for people who have lost abilities that they need for daily life. Some of the most common causes include:
- Injuries and trauma, including burns, fractures (broken bones), traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injuries
- Severe infections
- Major surgery
- Side effects from medical treatments, such as from cancer treatments
- Certain birth defects and genetic disorders
- Developmental disabilities
- Chronic pain, including back and neck pain
What are the goals of rehabilitation?
The overall goal of rehabilitation is to help you get your abilities back and regain independence. But the specific goals are different for each person. They depend on what caused the problem, whether the cause is ongoing or temporary, which abilities you lost, and how severe the problem is. For example,:
- A person who has had a stroke may need rehabilitation to be able to dress or bathe without help
- An active person who has had a heart attack may go through cardiac rehabilitation to try to return to exercising
- Someone with a lung disease may get pulmonary rehabilitation to be able to breathe better and improve their quality of life
What happens in a rehabilitation program?
When you get rehabilitation, you often have a team of different health care providers helping you. They will work with you to figure out your needs, goals, and treatment plan. The types of treatments that may be in a treatment plan include:
- Assistive devices, which are tools, equipment, and products that help people with disabilities move and function
- Cognitive rehabilitation therapy to help you relearn or improve skills such as thinking, learning, memory, planning, and decision making
- Mental health counseling
- Music or art therapy to help you express your feelings, improve your thinking, and develop social connections
- Nutritional counseling
- Occupational therapy to help you with your daily activities
- Physical therapy to help your strength, mobility, and fitness
- Recreational therapy to improve your emotional well-being through arts and crafts, games, relaxation training, and animal-assisted therapy
- Speech-language therapy to help with speaking, understanding, reading, writing and swallowing
- Treatment for pain
- Vocational rehabilitation to help you build skills for going to school or working at a job
Depending on your needs, you may have rehabilitation in the providers' offices, a hospital, or an inpatient rehabilitation center. In some cases, a provider may come to your home. If you get care in your home, you will need to have family members or friends who can come and help with your rehabilitation.
- Exercise at Home (National Jewish Health)
- About Occupational Therapy (American Occupational Therapy Association)
- Frequently Asked Questions about Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Amount and type of physical activity and sports from one year...
- Article: Novel protocol combining physical and nutrition therapies, Intensive Goal-directed REhabilitation with...
- Article: Characterizing non-critically ill COVID-19 survivors with and without in-hospital rehabilitation.
- Rehabilitation -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- Find a Massage Therapist (American Massage Therapy Association)
- Find a Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician (American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation)
- Find a Physical Therapist (American Physical Therapy Association)
The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.