What is rehabilitation therapy and how does it work?

By: Updated: March 4, 2023

Rehabilitation therapy is often provided after an individual is injured in an accident, has had a stroke or is suffering from a chronic condition, such as back pain. In this article, we will talk about different types of rehabilitation therapy. In addition, we will discuss what’s covered (and what’s not) by provincial health plans and by private insurance.


What is rehabilitation therapy?

There are several different types of rehabilitation therapy, with the key ones being occupational, physical and speech. Here’s a quick summary of each of them:

  • Occupational: This name suggests that occupational therapists are focused on employment concerns and indeed that’s part of what they do. For example, they may assist people who keyboard frequently at work, such as software developers, and have developed carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, they often deal with everyday life issues such as toileting, dressing and eating. Accomplishing these tasks can be vital for an individual to stay in their own home, rather than being forced to live in a care facility.

  • Physical: Physiotherapists help patients to relieve pain and improve their movement. They accomplish this by making a diagnosis and preparing a treatment plan. In some cases, they may help individuals learn how to use a cane or walker to enhance mobility and ensure safety.

  • Speech: Speech therapists often work with children who have conditions such as a cleft palate. In adults, they assist patients who are having trouble speaking due to a stroke or a brain injury.


Stages of rehabilitation

  • Diagnosis and assessment: In all types of rehabilitation therapy, the first step is for the therapist to diagnose the problem and develop a treatment plan.

  • Treatment: In physiotherapy, treatment may include hot or cold baths and electrical stimulation. The therapist may recommend exercises to strengthen the muscles where there has been an injury. Patients are encouraged to do these at home and should not see physio as a “magic bullet” that will help them without hard work.

  • Review: In all three types of rehabilitation therapy, the therapist will work with the patient for a pre-determined period. They will then review progress and suggest changes to the treatment plan. Ideally, you should not need to see the physiotherapist or other specialist on an ongoing basis.


What is the main purpose of rehabilitation?

The goals of rehabilitation therapy will vary depending on whether its occupational, physical or speech. Physical therapy is usually concerned with reducing pain and improving range of motion. This could include being able to walk more easily or lift heavy objects. Occupational therapy helps individuals take on tasks for everyday life; it may also focus on how the home environment can be made safer, such as installing grab bars in the bathtub.

Speech therapy helps individuals to talk after a stroke or brain injury. In some cases, they may not fully recover but can at least communicate their needs through speech. This can make a huge difference in everyday life and in mental wellbeing.


What is an example of rehabilitation?

Bob is 60 years old and has just suffered a stroke. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or a flood vessel in the brain bursts. In both cases, part of the brain is damaged. Strokes can result in permanent brain damage and even death. However, the good news is that with rehabilitation therapy, an individual can make a partial or even full recovery.

Bob was rushed to the hospital and given medications to prevent further injury. Within 24 hours, a team of experts began a rehabilitation program. In many cases, stroke patients need to relearn skills that are lost due to the stroke. This can include basic movement such as walking, speech and activities of daily living.

Bob was treated by all three types of therapists. He had a physiotherapist who helped him to regain motor skills, including balance and walking. An occupational therapist helped him with lost social skills and safety awareness. And a speech therapist worked with him so that he could talk again.

After Bob was released from the hospital, the rehabilitation therapy continued at home. Recovery can be a long and frustrating process, requiring great effort by the patient and the treatment team. It can also wear on family members who must care for the stroke patient 24 hours a day and seven days a week.


Is rehabilitation therapy covered by my provincial healthcare plan?

When you need rehabilitation services, an important question is how are you going to pay for them. If treatment is ongoing and you need to return for a number of followup appointments, it can be quite expensive.

So, will your provincial health plan (such as OHIP in Ontario) cover rehabilitation therapy? It depends. You will need to research your situation to find out what’s included and what you have to pay for out of pocket.

In Ontario, physiotherapy services are available at no cost to seniors over the age of 65 and children under the age of 19. Patients of any age are eligible for provincially funded service if they have had an overnight hospital stay and require physio treatment after being discharged. In addition, people on assistance programs such as Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program are covered. If you live in another province, check with your ministry of health to see what they provide.

If you have private insurance through your employer, look into what’s available. Sometimes, there may be a limit, such as four visits, to a practitioner, but at least that will provide your with some treatment without being out of pocket.


In Summary: Rehabilitation therapy

If you have been injured in an accident, have chronic pain or have suffered a stroke, you will likely need rehabilitation therapy. Experts in physical, occupational and speech therapy will assist you in your recovery. However, it will also require a lot of hard work on your part – doing the exercises at home or working with your therapists. An important component is determining how you will pay for these services. Depending on your province and age, some services may be covered by medicare. Or you may have insurance through your employer to cover at least the initial treatments. Be sure to check out the options before starting.


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