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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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