Who is Part of the Rehabilitation Team?

The Right Mix of Rehab Specialists Helps Head Trauma Victims Recover

Rehabilitation is a cornerstone of head trauma recovery. It helps head trauma victims prevent complications, maintain flexibility, regain strength and learn new skills after a debilitating injury.

There are specialties within the rehabilitation field that focus on distinct elements of recovery. These include the overseeing rehabilitation doctor, nurses, surgeons and medical specialists who focus on rehabilitative interventions.

In addition, physical, occupational, speech, recreational and mental health therapists provide invaluable services during recovery.

Treatment Team Members

A Physiatrist is a medical doctor who holds a specialty in rehabilitation. The physiatrist is in charge of managing the patient’s rehabilitation plan. S/he coordinates all physicians and clinicians who are involved in providing care. This keeps everyone focused on the same goals and ensures the patient receives the right treatments at the right time. Timing is essential when there are multiple injuries and recovery needs.

Rehabilitation Nurses provide comprehensive care for a recovering patient, from wound care and medication management to nutritional assessments and education. They work closely with the physiatrist, have extensive contact with patients, and report concerns and complications as they arise.

The rehab nurse is often the key communicator between the patient, family and other care providers, because they spend the most time with the patient.

If there is a question or a concern, the rehab nurse is the first point of contact to get the answer.

Physical Therapists are involved right from the start. They begin their care during the immediate post-injury (acute) phase and continue providing care through the home phase.

Physical therapists first collect a thorough baseline history of a patient’s injuries and capabilities.

Together with the physiatrist they next develop a rehabilitation plan that addresses all elements of physical recovery with a final goal of optimal, independent functioning. Physical therapists help prevent muscle wasting and contractures, and provide therapeutic exercises to regain strength and new skills.

Occupational Therapists focus on essential activities such as bathing, dressing, driving, cooking and managing finances. They complete home evaluations and recommend assistive devices for a variety of daily and specialized tasks.

Occupational therapists also assess work skills, and can help a head trauma victim obtain an appropriate work environment for their unique injuries.

Speech and Language Therapists determine how the face, mouth and throat muscles function. They also analyze how the patient processes information and expresses that through language.

When there is concern that the face, mouth or throat muscles may be affected by a head injury, a swallow evaluation is performed. This is important because impaired swallowing can lead to pneumonia and life-threatening complications.

Speech and language therapists have expert knowledge of assistive technologies that enable communication.

Neuropsychologists are very important when there is a traumatic brain injury. These experts are trained to identify how changes in the brain translate into behavioral changes. They assess the cognitive, emotional and mental effects of damage to the brain.

Neuropsychologists use a variety of therapies and exercises to improve how the brain works. They teach strategies patients can use to cope with emotional and behavioral changes after head trauma and traumatic brain injury.

Recreational Therapists find enjoyable activities for patients that also aid in recovery. Their expertise spans exercise, painting, swimming, taking classes and participating in sports. Recreational therapists match existing skills, ongoing therapeutic needs and interests with opportunities in the community.

This is often an enjoyable part of recovery for patients, because they can engage with others and have fun.

Mental Health Experts address the psychological and emotional effects of a serious head injury. A traumatic injury is extremely stressful. Some individuals who experience traumatic injury develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Depression, anxiety and PTSD can interfere with the rehabilitation plan, so addressing any issues early is important.

These are just a few of the skilled professionals who are part of long term head trauma recovery.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2012) Multidisciplinary Postacute Rehabilitation for Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury in Adults; Retrieved from http://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/index.cfm/search-for-guides-reviews-and-reports/?productid=1160&pageaction=displayproduct

Jesse R. Fann, Tessa Hart, and Katherine G. Schomer; Treatment for Depression after Traumatic Brain Injury: A Systematic Review J Neurotrauma. 2009 Dec; 26(12): 2383–2402. PMCID: PMC2864457

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and STroke (2015) Traumatic Brain Injury: Hope Through Research; Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tbi/detail_tbi.htm#266713218

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