Key facts

Rehabilitation is an essential part of universal health coverage along with promotion of good health, prevention of disease, treatment and palliative care.

Rehabilitation helps a child, adult or older person to be as independent as possible in everyday activities and enables participation in education, work, recreation and meaningful life roles such as taking care of family.

Globally, an estimated 2.4 billion people are currently living with a health condition that may benefit from rehabilitation.

The need for rehabilitation worldwide is predicted to increase due to changes in the health and characteristics of the population. For example, people are living longer, but with more chronic disease and disability.

Currently, the need for rehabilitation is largely unmet. In some low- and middle-income countries, more than 50% of people do not receive the rehabilitation services they require. Emergencies including conflicts, disasters and outbreaks create enormous surges in rehabilitation needs while also disrupting rehabilitation services.

Rehabilitation is an important part of universal health coverage and is a key strategy for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3 – “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”.


Rehabilitation is defined as “a set of interventions designed to optimize functioning and reduce disability in individuals with health conditions in interaction with their environment”.

Put simply, rehabilitation helps a child, adult or older person to be as independent as possible in everyday activities and enables participation in education, work, recreation and meaningful life roles such as taking care of family. It does so by working with the person and their family to address underlying health conditions and their symptoms, modifying their environment to better suit their needs, using assistive products, educating to strengthen self-management, and adapting tasks so that they can be performed more safely and independently. Together, these strategies can help an individual; overcome difficulties with thinking, seeing, hearing, communicating, eating or moving around.

Anybody may need rehabilitation at some point in their lives, following an injury, surgery, disease or illness, or because their functioning has declined with age.

Some examples of rehabilitation include:

speech and language training to improve a person’s communication after a brain injury;

physical exercise training to improve muscle strength, voluntary movements and balance in persons with stroke or Parkinson disease;

modifying an older person’s home environment to improve their safety and independence at home and to reduce their risk of falls;

educating a person with heart disease on how to exercise safely;

preparing a person with an amputation to be able to use a prosthetic and making, fitting and refitting the prosthesis;

positioning and splinting techniques to assist with skin healing, reduce swelling, and to regain movement after burn surgery;

prescribing medicine to reduce spasticity for a child with cerebral palsy;

psychological therapies for a person with emotional distress following a spinal cord injury;

Social skills training for persons with schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders or disorders of intellectual disability.

training a person with vision loss in the use of a white cane; and

working with a patient in intensive care to improve their breathing, prevent complications and speed their recovery after critical illness

Rehabilitation is highly person-centred, meaning that the interventions selected for each individual are targeted to their goals and preferences. Rehabilitation can be provided in many different places, such as inpatient or outpatient hospital settings, outpatient physio- or occupational therapy practices, and community settings such as an individual’s home, a school or a workplace.

The rehabilitation workforce is made up of different health workers, including but not limited to physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and audiologists, orthotists and prosthetists, clinical psychologists, physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors, and rehabilitation nurses. Many other health workers, such as general practitioners, surgeons, and community health workers may also play an important role in a person’s rehabilitation.

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