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Physical Rehabilitation at the Hospital

If you are in the hospital recovering from surgery, healing from an injury, or being treated for a disabling medical condition, physical rehabilitation may be an important part of your treatment. Physical medicine and rehabilitation, or simply rehab, is a branch of medicine called physiatry.

Therapist manipulating the arm of an older man who is in the hospital
Physical therapy

You may need this type of treatment for any condition that affects your nerves, muscles, bones, or brain and is causing you temporary or permanent disability. Medical healthcare providers who plan your treatment are called physiatrists. They work along with a team of other medical professionals, such as physical therapists.

Conditions treated with physical therapy in the hospital

Many conditions that cause pain or limit your ability to move normally may be helped by physical therapy. This type of rehab may be needed at the hospital before you go home or to an extended care facility. Here are some conditions that may be helped by physical medicine rehab in the hospital:

  • Stroke. Stroke is a block or burst of the blood supply to the brain. The most important part of stroke recovery is early rehab that often starts right away in the hospital. Rehab can help you relearn how to manage daily activities, recover lost function, and prevent further damage.

  • Spine injury. Neck and back injuries need early treatment for the best results. Physical therapy and rehab for these injuries begin as soon as possible at the hospital. They help limit more damage and shorten recovery time.

  • Pain. If you have severe pain in the hospital after an injury or an operation or because of a nerve or muscle condition, physical therapy may help ease your pain. It can also help you to better manage it. 

  • Joint conditions. Joint conditions can cause pain, stiffness, and limited movement. They may be treated with physical therapy in the hospital. Therapy can ease pain and improve range of movement. It can also teach you how to use your joints without causing more damage. Examples of these conditions include ankylosing spondylitis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.

  • Other conditions. You might need physical rehab for cancer, heart disease, lung problems, an infected wound, an amputation, or a severe burn. You will also need physical rehab after joint replacement surgery. 

What happens during rehab treatments

At the hospital, your physiatrist may talk with you, examine you, order special tests, and look at your medical records. Then he or she will come up with a rehab treatment plan to fit your needs. A physical therapist (PT) may help you carry out your plan. A PT is trained in how to restore physical mobility and function after an injury or surgery. Other medical specialists, such as occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, social workers, and psychologists may also be involved.

Here are some of the ways these specialists can assist you:

  • Help you exercise and strengthen your muscles

  • Help you stretch your muscles to increase flexibility

  • Give you range of motion exercises to maintain or increase movement

  • Give you exercises and activities to improve your coordination and balance

  • Teach you how to be safe when you leave the hospital

  • Teach you how to be independent when you leave the hospital

  • Improve healing by using massage, heat, cold, electric currents, or sound waves

Physical rehabilitation therapy is a crucial part of recovery from many conditions you may face in the hospital. In many cases, physical therapy and rehab in the hospital is the beginning of a process that will continue after you leave the hospital. Continued therapy may be done at an extended care facility. It may also be done at an outpatient physical therapy department or at home.

You can improve your chances of recovery by learning as much as you can about your condition and working closely with all the members of your rehab team. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Ogiela, Dennis, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/11/2015
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