Rehabilitation Medicine: Topic Information

What is rehabilitation medicine?

Rehabilitation medicine describes efforts to improve function and minimize impairment related to activities that have been hampered by disease, injuries, or developmental disorders.

Injuries, illnesses, or conditions that may cause or contribute to disability can include stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, musculoskeletal injuries, pain, a number of intellectual and developmental disorders such as cerebral palsy, Fragile X syndrome, and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), and other conditions and injuries.1,2,3

The primary effects of many such conditions are physical—perhaps mobility or sensory problems. But individuals facing them can also experience intellectual, behavioral, and communication difficulties. They might have problems with making decisions, paying attention, or speaking. These can also require rehabilitation medical care.

The NICHD—through its National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research—focuses on addressing chronic physical disabilities in its rehabilitation medicine research. Other NIH Institutes may focus on specific aspects of rehabilitation medicine, as explained throughout the rest of this topic.

Rehabilitation medicine differs from drug and alcohol rehabilitation, which aims to help a person control or eliminate his or her substance use, and from the rehabilitation that is commonly referred to within the context of the criminal justice system.


  1. NICHD Blue Ribbon Panel. (2012). Retrieved August 20, 2014, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/advisory/nachhd/Documents/Blue_Ribbon_Panel_201205.pdf (PDF - 325 KB) [top]
  2. NICHD. (2014). Retrieved August 20, 2014, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/ncmrr/Pages/overview.aspx[top]
  3. Blue Ribbon Panel on Medical Rehabilitation Research at the NIH. (2012, December). Final Report. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from https://www.aapmr.org/advocacy/research/Documents/FINAL%20Blue%20Ribbon%20Panel%20Report%20-%20December%2018%202012%20(D0456685).PDF External Web Site Policy (PDF - 859 KB) [top]

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