Spinal Cord Injury: Your Rehabilitation Team
As soon as you are stabilized after your SCI, your transition into rehabilitation (rehab) begins. At first, the focus of rehab is to prevent other problems related to your SCI. And it helps you relearn how to do daily tasks, sometimes by using different muscle groups.
Rehab helps you adjust to life with less movement and feeling than you had before. What you'll do in rehab depends on which part of your spine was injured. Rehab can include learning how to:
- Prevent other problems related to your spinal cord injury. You'll learn to manage bowel and bladder function and to build strength, endurance, and flexibility. You may also learn how to handle problems such as pressure injuries, urinary tract infections, and muscle spasticity.
- Do daily tasks. These include how to cook, brush your teeth, and move from a wheelchair to a bed or chair.
- Prepare for life after rehab. You'll learn ways to cope with your feelings, communicate your needs, and be physically and emotionally intimate.
Rehab for an SCI most often takes place in a special center. You'll be given a plan designed for your recovery. This plan will help you recover as much function as possible and prevent other problems. It can help you do as many things for yourself as possible.
Choosing the right rehab center is important. Be sure that you choose one that meets your specific needs. Before you choose a rehab center, ask questions about its staff, accreditation, and activities. Find out how it transitions you back into your community.
Your rehab team
You and your family will work with a rehab team, which includes different types of health professionals. Your team helps design your recovery plan. They'll be there to help you and answer your questions.
A rehab team includes:
- A rehabilitation doctor.
This doctor is in charge of your medical care. This is often a physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehab).
- A rehabilitation nurse.
This is a nurse who specializes in providing care for people with disabilities. They can also educate you and your family about an SCI and help the doctor coordinate medical care.
- A physical therapist.
- This therapist evaluates and treats problems with movement, balance, and coordination. They provide training and exercises to improve mobility, such as using a wheelchair or moving from a wheelchair to other locations. The therapist also teaches family members how to help with your exercise, if needed.
- An occupational therapist.
This therapist helps you learn new ways of doing daily tasks, such as eating, bathing, dressing, writing, or cooking. You may work on strengthening your upper body and arms.
- A speech-language therapist.
This person helps you relearn how to chew and swallow food and relearn language skills. You'll learn other ways to communicate if your spinal cord injury has affected the muscles that control your mouth, throat, and neck. This is not always necessary.
- A social worker.
This person can help you make decisions about rehab and help you plan your return to home or a new living place. They can help you with questions about insurance and other financial issues and can help arrange for support services. Social workers also provide or arrange for counseling to help you deal with any emotional problems.
- A recreation specialist.
This person helps you return to activities that you enjoyed before the SCI. You'll use the skills you are learning in other areas (such as physical or occupational therapy) to do your hobbies. They can help you return to community life by taking you shopping or to the movies, for example.
- A licensed counselor.
A counselor helps you and your family deal with the emotional effects of your SCI. Counselors can help identify and understand emotional problems. They may treat thinking or memory problems.
Current as of: December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Nancy Greenwald MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation