Rehabilitation Therapy

Because MS is a chronic or long-term disease that typically involves a progression of disability that can affect almost any aspect of everyday functioning, from mobility to thinking and speaking, rehabilitation therapy plays an important role in managing disabling effects from the disease. The goal of rehabilitation is to improve and maintain function. Rehabilitation therapy includes a wide variety of specialties:

  • Physical therapy (PT)
  • Occupational therapy (OT)
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Cognitive rehabilitation
  • Vocational rehabilitation

Your rehabilitation team

Health professionals and specialists in rehabilitation, including physical therapists, nurses, occupational therapists, speech/language pathologists, and others, will work with you to help you feel your best and function effectively at work and at home by providing education and treatment to address your symptoms and challenges and to promote general health and conditioning.

Because MS will affect you differently at different stages of the disease, your rehabilitation team will play an important ongoing, long-term role in your life. For instance, as problems arise with mobility or your ability to take care of basic personal care functions at home, your rehabilitation team can step in and assist with advice and training on specific challenges as they come up to keep you living fully and independently.

Remember that you are the most important member of the rehabilitation team. In fact, you are at the center of the rehabilitation process, a process that brings together the skills of specialists in a variety of areas. For rehabilitation to be a success, you will have to take an active role in guiding your plan and using the advice and skills and resources of all team members.

Rehabilitation and relapses

The course of MS is unpredictable and you may have a long periods of time with few or no problems, followed by an exacerbation with new or worsening symptoms. Progression of disability may move quickly or plateau for a time. Your rehabilitation team can help you regain functional ability after a relapse or increase in disability.

Your rehab team members

Although you do most of the hard work of rehabilitation with the help of rehabilitation specialists, your doctor will lead rehabilitation efforts by identifying your treatment needs and directing you to the right specialist for help. Common rehab specialists and their areas of expertise are shown below.

MS Rehabilitation Specialists and Their Functions

Specialists
Functions
Nurse
  • Serves as coordinator for rehab team: has ongoing contact with you and has most complete knowledge of your needs
  • Teaches basic self-management techniques, including bladder and bowel care, skin care
Physical therapist
  • Goal is to evaluate and improve physical functioning so you can meet demands of family, work, and social life
  • Provides instruction in exercises, balance, stretching
  • Provides instruction on mobility and ambulation aids
Occupational therapist
  • Helps you maintain everyday skills for independent living and productivity at home and work
  • Helps you with strategies to cope with symptoms including fatigue, cognition, upper body strength, and coordination
  • Helps you with use of assistive technologies and behavioral and environmental modifications to maintain functioning at home, work, and in the community
Speech-Language pathologist
  • Evaluates problems with speech and swallowing and cognitive problems that may impact communication
  • Helps you address problems with muscles involved in speech and swallowing
  • Identifies and addresses swallowing problems that can affect your health and safety
Vocational rehabilitation specialist
  • Provides vocational (work-related) guidance and counseling, including recommending supportive technologies to increase your ability to work
  • Provides work training to help you gain and maintain employment
Neuropsychologist
  • Evaluates cognitive problems, including the ability to think, reason, concentrate, and remember, and recommends strategies and appropriate interventions Psychologist
Social worker
  • Evaluates psychosocial problems and recommends appropriate interventions
Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: May 2015.
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