Once you choose your rehabilitation facility, you will be introduced to an entire team of medical professionals who will be helping you during your journey to recover. There are several different types of rehab professionals who are integral to your healing process. Any rehabilitation facility that is fully prepared for patients with spinal cord injuries should have at least 9 out of 10 of these following medical professionals:
The doctor you will see while you are in rehab therapy is a physiatrist. A physiatrist is a medical doctor that specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Physiatrists also specialize in treating spinal cord injuries. You will meet with your physiatrist within your first day at the rehabilitation facility, and they will create a treatment plan for you that is designed to maximize your function and recovery.
A rehabilitation facility that is prepared to fully treat individuals with spinal cord injuries will have a rehabilitation head nurse on-staff. This nurse is responsible for making sure all of the other nurses are collaborating to help patients the best way possible. Head nurses are experts in spinal cord injury-related health issues concerning bladder, bowels, nutrition, pain, respiratory function, and skin care. When you are ready to be discharged, the rehab nurse will also provide education for you and your family to ensure that you and your loved ones know how to take care of you on a day-to-day basis at home.
Each day at rehab, you will see different types of therapists for at least 3 hours per day. The type of therapist you will see the most is a physical therapist. Physical therapists help you develop as much muscle as you can in your core and major extremities through intensive strength training. Physical therapists also teach you skills related to maneuvering your wheelchair. Physical therapists are also responsible for helping you improve your strength, endurance, and coordination.
Another important therapist you will be seeing several times a week is your occupational therapist. Occupational therapists focus on improving upper-body movement and fine motor dexterity in order to help their patients become as independent as possible. Occupational therapists will help you figure out how to perform everyday tasks, such as getting dressed and brushing your teeth, in an adaptive way. Tasks that occupational therapists assist patients with include bathing, cleaning, and taking part in hobbies. Lastly, OTs are also adept at creating custom adaptation equipment and procedures for their patients.
A good rehabilitation facility will get you thinking about life after rehab, and this usually includes considering returning back to work or school. For many people with spinal cord injuries, going back to work or school and developing a daily schedule similar to their life prior to the injury can be very therapeutic. However, if you are unable to return to your same career after your injury, a vocational therapist can help you figure out a new career path, or they can help you return to your old career by providing adaptive equipment and suggesting work accommodations. A vocational therapist will also assist you with accommodations and adaptive equipment if you are returning to school or starting higher education for the first time. Vocational therapists can help you find a school that will meet your needs.
The mental health of patients should be addressed at every rehabilitation facility. Typically, each patient at a rehab center will be assigned to a psychologist. Most rehab facilities will have you meet with a psychologist on a weekly basis to make sure your mental health is stable. The transition from living life as an able-bodied person to living life with a significant disability is a massive change that comes with many personal losses; mentally adjusting to life with your new injury can be difficult and can put a strain on your mental health. Your rehab psychologist can help you come to terms with your injury. Many people also experience PTSD after their spinal cord injury, and a rehabilitation psychologist can help with this as well.
One of the more fun activities you will take part in at a rehabilitation facility is recreational therapy. In rehab, a recreational therapist will help you discover adaptive sports you may enjoy, and will work to integrate these activities into your new life. Having some kind of adaptive recreational activity to take part in regularly can greatly enhance your overall happiness.