What Is Rehabilitation And Who Are The Players?

What Is Rehabilitation?

Patients often ask what is Rehabilitation.  There are many different forms of rehabilitation, but this information will only be talking about medical rehabilitation in its specialist form, i.e. Rehabilitation Medicine.

There are many fancy definitions of Rehabilitation Medicine, but in essence, all forms of rehabilitation have a common theme and that is to restore something to a former state. If this is not completely achievable, and it is often not, then the aim is to restore the ability to function so that you can get on and do the things you need to do and want to do.

Rehabilitation treatment interventions involve conventional medical treatment and a specialist in Rehabilitation Medicine undergoes six additional years of medical training, the same as any other specialist. Where the problem cannot be “fixed” or a “cure” offered, then we look for ways of better controlling or managing the problem. Examples of this might include exercise programmes, practical self help techniques and help with return to work plans etc.

The Role Of The Rehabilitation Medicine Specialist

The rehabilitation medical specialist acts in a way similar to any other treating medical specialist, whereby he or she might prescribe medication or other treatment and monitor the progress of your condition. They also get involved with overseeing many other aspects related to your condition, such as return to work, psychological problems related to your injury or condition, physical therapy, and looking at ways to enable you to function in the best possible manner despite the persistence of pain or other symptoms.

All of this can involve dealing with many other health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and other doctors. It may also involve dealing with such things as work, insurance or legal matters as they relate to your medical condition. In this way the Rehabilitation Medical Specialist is sometimes seen, in part, as a medical coordinator sharing this role and working in with your family doctor.

Who Are The Other Rehabilitation Players And Their Role?

There are many other health professionals involved in medical rehabilitation. These would include of course any other doctors involved in your care.

Physiotherapists (and also chiropractors and osteopaths) provide physical therapy programmes ranging from “hands on” treatment or helping to devise such things as therapeutic exercise programmes.

Occupational therapists are important members of the rehabilitation team and generally specialise in finding adaptive ways to assist with improving your functional ability. The type of things that they can do can be very varied and include looking at modifying your work station at your place of employment to looking at ways to make things easier or simpler for you at home.

Psychologists can provide very necessary education and counselling to assist you with adjusting and better coping with pain and dealing with other problems such as stress and psychological aftermath which often follows illness or injury. These sorts of interventions can very much ease suffering and enable the recovery process to start.

Work rehabilitation providers are there to assist in the process of return to work after illness or injury. They are sometimes referred to as occupational rehabilitation providers or return to work consultants. They are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “rehabilitation consultants”, as this tends to confuse them with other health professionals. Their background is often that of a physiotherapist or occupational therapist who have now chosen to specialise in this area. They can also be vocational counsellors or psychologists. They perform many tasks, but most typically are involved in drawing up a return to work plan consisting of suitable duties and suitable hours once they have visited your workplace, seen what you do, and have received the necessary medical advice regarding your restrictions etc. They can also be involved in organising retraining for another job position if you cannot return to your previous job.

The workplace rehabilitation coordinator (different from the workplace rehabilitation provider) can be from different backgrounds, but is often a nursing sister who has specialised in this area. They tend to be based at the place of employment and are involved in occupational health and safety issues at the workplace as well as your return to work plans after injury. This may involve them dealing with the workplace rehabilitation provider (who is not employed by or based at the workplace). The rehabilitation workplace coordinator is therefore usually your first port of call when looking at specific return to work issues at your particular workplace.


As you can see, there can be many people involved in your care, each with a different role and sometimes with roles overlapping.

Understandably, this can be confusing for many people but it is hoped that the above explanations have helped a little. This list of people is by no means exhaustive and the description of their roles is not meant to be definitive, but rather to give you the basic idea of who does what.

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