Whichever rehabilitation unit you choose, your rehabilitation will depend on the knowledge and cooperation efforts of the rehabilitation team.1 The precise make-up of your team will depend on factors ranging from cost to specialization, but in general here are the members of the rehab team you will find at most centers that treat spinal cord injury:
Patient and family: You, the injured person, are not only a member of the rehabilitation team, but the most important member. Your enthusiasm and participation in the rehab process are essential. Your family and friends are also extremely important.
Rehabilitation doctor: A physician with a specialty in physical medicine, called a physiatrist, leads the rehab team. He or she coordinates patient care services with other team members.
Rehabilitation nurse: Rehab nurses and their assistants are on call 24/7 to help you set goals, plan your care and reach maximum independence. Nurses are fully involved in medical care and prevention of complications. Your nurse will be an important source for patient and family education, too.
Physical therapist: Physical therapy (PT) is a crucial element of rehabilitation. Activity is a very important part of recovery. Your therapist will help to restore function to the extent possible, working with you to improve movement, strength, and joint function.
Occupational therapist: Occupational therapy (OT) is the key to improving independence. Your therapist will school you in activities of daily living (ADLs) related to work, school, family, and leisure activities, including eating, bathing and hygiene and home management. OTs recommend adaptive equipment and tools.
Case manager: The rehabilitation case manager is a specially trained social worker who makes sure you are connected to available services and resources. Your case manager helps you plan your discharge from rehab to home.
PsychologistN: Spinal cord injury is a life-changing event; a psychologist can help your process and cope with your changing situation. Some centers have specialized staff to deal with sex, intimacy and family planning issues.
Recreation therapist: Your rec therapist is there to get you out in the world, involved in social settings, including sports and leisure activities.
Chaplain: For those who seek counsel related to spiritual matters, the chaplain serves as a liaison between the hospital and your home church or place of worship.
Other specialists: Spinal cord injury can involve multiple body systems, and multiple aspects of life, depending on the specifics of each injury. Other specialists you might encounter include a urologist, pain management doctor, orthopedic surgeon, pharmacist, and perhaps one of the following:
- Respiratory therapist: Some injuries impact breathing. This is the team member trained to treat airways and lungs.
- Speech language pathologist: Some spinal cord injuries affect communication, swallowing, memory, judgment or cognition. Your speech-language pathologist (SLP) evaluates and helps treat these.
- Wound Care: Skin is vulnerable after spinal cord injury. You may meet a nurse who specializes in keeping your skin healthy and infection free.
- Dietitian: Nutrition is an important part of recovery. This expert will make sure you are eating what you need.
- Seating Specialist: This is the person who helps line up the proper mobility equipment to get you back into the community.
- Vocational therapist: These specialists assess your job skills and help arrange equipment, training and placement for getting back to work or school.
- Driving trainer: Getting back on the road is a worthy goal, and if you are able to you may need special training to adapt your driving. Some rehab centers have a driver training program.
For more on physical medicine specialization, see these professional organizations:
- American Spinal Injury Association
- The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
- The American Occupational Therapy Association
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
- American Therapeutic Recreation Association
- Association of Rehabilitation Nurses
- American Physical Therapy Association
- APA Rehabilitation Psychology
This article does not constitute a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.