Why might someone need rehabilitation medicine?

There are many reasons why a person may need care related to rehabilitation medicine. For example:

  • Injuries and trauma, such as:
    • Burns
    • Limb loss or amputation
    • Fractures, including multiple fractures to the long bones in the limbs and fractures of the hip, spine, or skull
    • Traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion (mild TBI)
    • Spinal cord injury
    • Loss of sight or hearing
  • Diseases and conditions that can cause loss of mobility function, such as:
    • Muscular dystrophy
    • Spina bifida
    • Cerebral palsy
    • Arthritis
    • Scoliosis or curvature of the spine
    • Damage to muscles, ligaments, tendons, or cartilage
    • Knee arthroplasty/replacement
    • Hip replacement
    • Stroke
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Parkinson’s disease and related degenerative disorders
  • Surgery or prolonged treatment for other diseases or illnesses that can cause loss of function, such as:
    • Chronic pain/neuropathy
    • Severe infection
    • Diabetes
    • Cancers (including chemo- and radiation therapies)
    • Peripheral artery disease
    • Cardiac arrest

Likewise, certain intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders, may benefit from rehabilitation medicine in the form of occupational or physical therapy or other rehabilitation services.

These are but a few examples, and many of them fall outside the research portfolio of the NICHD and NCMRR. In general, though, any person might need care related to rehabilitation medicine at some point in his or her life, for a variety of reasons.

Secondary Conditions

Many people who experience the disorders listed above also face their secondary effects—problems that are not necessarily part of the main diagnosis, but that can also have an impact on patients’ health, independence, and quality of life.

Rehabilitation medicine may include treatments for these and other secondary symptoms:

  • Muscle atrophy (wasting), blood clots or circulation issues, obesity, or other problems resulting from disuse
  • Problems caused by overuse of prosthetics or medical devices
  • Ulcers, bed sores, or other problems with skin integrity
  • Local or widespread infections or sepsis
  • Injuries resulting from falls
  • Problems with balance or vision
  • High blood pressure, diabetes, and other conditions
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Breathing problems, including those related to mechanical ventilation
  • Emotional or cognitive difficulties, such as anger, depression, or difficulty controlling emotions or behavior

If not addressed in a timely manner, many of these secondary conditions can become serious, some of them fatal.