What types of activities are involved with rehabilitation medicine?

Rehabilitation medicine uses many kinds of assistance, therapies, and devices to improve function. The type of rehabilitation a person receives depends on the condition causing impairment, the bodily function that is affected, and the severity of the impairment.

The following are some common types of rehabilitation:1, 2, 3, 4, 5

  • Cognitive rehabilitation therapy involves relearning or improving skills, such as thinking, learning, memory, planning, and decision making that may have been lost or affected by brain injury.
  • Occupational therapy helps a person carry out daily life tasks and activities in the home, workplace, and community.
  • Pharmacorehabilitation involves the use of drugs to improve or restore physical or mental function.
  • Physical therapy involves activities and exercises to improve the body’s movements, sensations, strength, and balance.
  • Rehabilitative/assistive technology refers to tools, equipment, and products that help people with disabilities move and function. This technology includes (but is not limited to):
    • Orthotics, which are devices that aim to improve movement and prevent contracture in the upper and lower limbs. For instance, pads inserted into a shoe, specially fitted shoes, or ankle or leg braces can improve a person’s ability to walk. Hand splints and arm braces can help the upper limbs remain supple and unclenched after a spinal cord injury.
    • Prosthetics, which are devices designed to replace a missing body part, such as an artificial limb
    • Wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and other mobility aids
    • Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, which aim to either make a person’s communication more understandable or take the place of a communication method. They can include electronic devices, speech-generating devices, and picture boards.
    • Hearing aids and cochlear implants
    • Retinal prostheses, which can restore useful vision in cases in which it has been lost due to certain degenerative eye conditions
    • Telemedicine and telerehab technologies, which are devices or software to deliver care or monitor conditions in the home or community
    • Rehabilitation robotics
    • Mobile apps to assist with speech/communication, anxiety/stress, memory, and other functions or symptoms6
  • Recreational therapy helps improve symptoms and social and emotional well-being through arts and crafts, games, relaxation training, and animal-assisted therapy.
  • Speech and language therapy aims to improve impaired swallowing and movement of the mouth and tongue, as well as difficulties with the voice, language, and talking.
  • Surgery includes procedures to correct a misaligned limb or to release a constricted muscle, skin grafts for burns, insertion of chips into the brain to assist with limb or prosthetic movement, and placement of skull plates or bone pins.
  • Vocational rehabilitation aids in building skills for going to school or working at a job.
  • Music or art therapy can specifically aid in helping people express emotion, in cognitive development, or in helping to develop social connectedness.7

These services are provided by a number of different healthcare providers and specialists, including (but not limited to):

  • Physiatrists (also called rehabilitation physicians)
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physical therapists
  • Cognitive rehabilitation therapists
  • Gait and clinical movement specialist
  • Rehabilitation technologists
  • Speech therapists
  • Audiologists
  • Orthopedists/surgeons
  • Neurologists
  • Psychiatrists/psychologists
  • Biomedical engineers
  • Rehabilitation engineers


  1. NIH Clinical Center (2013). Rehabilitation Medicine. Retrieved August 21, 2014, from http://www.cc.nih.gov/rmd/
  2. Medline Plus. (2013). Prosthesis. Retrieved August 21, 2014, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002286.htm
  3. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. (2014). Intestinal Rehabilitation. Retrieved August 21, 2014, from https://www.upmc.com/services/transplant/intestinal/rehabilitation external link
  4. The Society for Cognitive Rehabilitation. (2013). What is Cognitive Rehab Therapy? Retrieved September 3, 2014, from https://www.societyforcognitiverehab.org/what_is_cognitive_rehab.php external link
  5. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (2014). Orthotics. Retrieved September 3, 2014, from https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/orthotics external link
  6. BrainLine.org. (2014). Life-Changing Mobile Apps for People with Brain Injury. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from https://www.brainline.org/article/life-changing-apps-people-brain-injury external link
  7. National Rehabilitation Information Center. (2010). Art and music therapy in rehab and beyond. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from http://www.naric.com/?q=en/content/art-and-music-therapy-rehab-and-beyond external link
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