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What is Subacute Rehabilitation?

By P.S. Jones
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Physical therapy is a health care service that helps to develop, maintain or restore movement and function to a patient. Many patients find themselves undergoing physical therapy after a serious illness or procedures, such as a stroke or an amputation. Subacute rehabilitation is physical therapy that is less intensive than acute physical therapy. It is reserved for those patients that may have reached a plateau in their progress, but still possess substantial potential.

Acute rehabilitation is designed for patients whose primary goal is a basic functioning, such as walking or sitting upright unassisted. These patients must be in a position to complete a whole day of physical therapy, and be able to meet the physical demands required to progress in the program. While the purpose of acute rehabilitation may be to increase mobility, some patients use it to increase their overall stamina or reduce pain performing certain actions.

On the other hand, subacute rehabilitation is suited to patients who cannot tolerate more than three hours of physical therapy each day. For example, a doctor would prescribe this type of rehabilitation for patients who are currently in a coma, or have recently emerged from one. That patient’s muscles may not have the strength to endure traditional physical rehabilitation, and need a modified treatment in order to make any significant progress.

Often, patients that have undergone traditional or acute rehabilitation may then move on to subacute rehabilitation after they have met their main goals, but still need to master a particularly difficult task. For example, a hip replacement patient may have accomplished their primary goal of walking unassisted, but need subacute rehab to master climbing stairs regularly. Those who have suffered from orthopedic or bone injuries, but aren’t yet able to bear weight on that injury would also benefit from this type of rehabilitation.

While subacute rehabilitation may be found in many hospitals and clinics, elderly care institutions often have a rehab program on the premises. The reason is that the elderly are prime candidates for this type of low intensity rehabilitation. While they may be nearly completely mobile, most senior citizens have some sort of reduced mobility in at least one area. Integrating subacute rehabs with elderly care initiations, makes the ongoing physical therapy more efficient.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon231934 — On Nov 28, 2011

Rehab is not all physical therapy. It includes speech and occupational therapy, and often things like music, recreation and/or art therapy as well!

By mutsy — On Feb 22, 2011

Subway11 - I think that the hardest part in seeing a loved one go through this type of intensive therapy is that you want to speed up the progress and get them where they were before their accident.

Many of these people do not recover 100% which means they will always have some form of cognitive deficiencies and their speech will not be the same.

They might be able to speak but their speech patterns will be slower because it will take them a bit more time for their brain to register the words.

By subway11 — On Feb 21, 2011

Sunny27 - That really sounds like a wonderful place. I know that my dad needed post stroke rehabilitation which really consisted of speech and occupational therapy.

This can be really challenging because you have to relearn sounds that were previously instinctive. I know that neurological rehabilitation is even harder because along with speech therapy the patient has to learn how to perform basic functions not just simply learning how to talk because of a previous brain injury.

For example, the congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords that survived a gunshot wound in the head is going to have to go through extensive therapy with a neuropsychologist that will help her rebuild her basic wiring in her brain that supports cognitive functions.

They also say that people that suffer from this type of brain injury may have a change in their personality and become more outspoken.

Some may become very depressed or extremely happy there is generally no middle ground. This happens when the front part of the brain is injured like it was in the congresswomen's case.

By Sunny27 — On Feb 20, 2011

I just wanted to say that Care One is a subacute rehabilitation facility. They offer physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy seven days a week.

Most patients seeking physical therapy will have up to three hours of therapy a day. They usually receive a lot of patients looking for orthopedic rehabilitation from a knee or hip replacement.

The average stay for a hip or replacement surgery is two weeks but it could be longer depending on the patient. I know that Medicare pays for the first 20 days at 100% and then if the patient needs to say beyond that they normally pay 80% of the claim and a secondary insurance like AARP will pick up the remaining 20%.

If the patient does not have a secondary insurance then the cost would be out of pocket. Usually 20% of the costs would be about $135 a day. These figures can vary by state but it is a rough average.

Most of these centers have 24 hour nursing care and a doctor on call at all times. They also have an onsite dietician and provide many activities offered by the entertainment director.

Some of the events include movie screenings, crafts, and games. They also have birthday parties for the patients.

It is really best to get a tour of the facility so that you can judge for yourself. I had an aunt stay at one of these centers and she had a very positive experience.

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