Spinal Cord Injury: Your Rehabilitation Team

Topic Overview

When you are recovering from a spinal cord injury (SCI), it is best to work with a group of health professionals known as a rehabilitation (rehab) team. Your rehab team designs a unique plan for your recovery that will help you recover as much function as possible, prevent complications, and help you live as independently as possible.

  • You and your family are the most important people on the team. The other team members are there to answer your questions and help you.
  • A rehabilitation doctor is in charge of your medical care. This is often a physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehab). Some physiatrists take additional training in spinal cord injuries to become spinal cord injury specialists.
  • A rehabilitation nurse specializes in nursing care for people with disabilities. This nurse provides nursing care, educates you and your family about the medical side of an SCI, and helps the doctor coordinate medical care. He or she will help you but will also expect you to do as much as possible yourself.
  • A physical therapist evaluates and treats problems with movement, balance, and coordination. He or she provides training and exercises to improve mobility, such as using a wheelchair or moving from a wheelchair to other locations. The physical therapist also teaches family members how to help with your exercise, if needed.
  • An occupational therapist helps you with daily tasks, such as eating, bathing, dressing, writing, or cooking. You may have to learn new ways to do these things. He or she will also help you increase the strength of your upper body and arms.
  • A speech-language therapist helps you relearn how to chew and swallow food and relearn language skills and 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 helps you make decisions about rehabilitation and helps you plan your return to home or a new living place. He or she helps you with questions about insurance and other financial issues and can arrange for a variety of support services. Social workers also provide or arrange for counseling to help you deal with any emotional problems.
  • A recreation specialist helps you return to activities that you enjoyed before the SCI. He or she will help you use the skills you are learning in other areas (such as physical or occupational therapy) in your hobbies. Your recreation specialist will help you return to community life by taking you shopping or to the movies, for example.
  • A licensed counselor helps you and your family deal with the emotional effects of your SCI. Counselors use interviews and tests to identify and understand emotional problems. They may treat thinking or memory problems or provide advice to other professionals about your mental state.

Other professionals that may help you during your rehab include a registered dietitian to help you prepare a balanced diet and take care of any special dietary needs, a vocational counselor to help you find a job, and a sexual health specialist to help with intimacy and fertility issues.

Related Information


Current as of: November 20, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Nancy E. Greenwald, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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