spinal cord injury patient on AbilityLab stairs


Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Program


See what sets us apart from other rehabilitation hospitals and why our outcomes for spinal cord injury patients are exceptional.

More experience. More advanced training. Extensive credentials.


  • We offer you more than 50 years of specialization in spinal cord injury (SCI) rehabilitation.  In 1970, we were named one of the country’s original five Model System Spinal Cord Injury Centers, a distinction we retain today.
  • Our level of expertise draws more patients with SCI (traumatic and non-traumatic). It also enables us to care for all levels of SCI injury, as well as SCI patients who are medically complex with multiple diagnoses (including those seeking ventilator weaning).
  • All care teams are led by SCI board-certified physicians.
  • More than 50% of our therapists have advanced certification in their respective fields, e.g., physical (PT), occupational (OT), speech-language (SLP) and respiratory therapy (RT). This level of expertise is a highly unusual distinction for a rehabilitation hospital. In addition, your therapists will have specialized training in treating patients with spinal cord injuries.
  • We have the only speech-language therapists in the state with advanced neurologic communication disorder certifications.
  • Our Physical Therapy Residency and SCI Fellowship programs are among few in the country. With academic partners, we offer two PT residency programs (neurologic & orthopedic), a PT Manual Fellowship and an OT Fellowship. Eligibility requires advanced credentials. These programs further distinguish our level of expertise.
  • Our Ventilator-weaning Program is unique in its stepped approach. We focus on strengthening all of the working muscles needed for breathing. First, we evaluate which breathing muscles are functioning, as well as the strength of these muscles. Then we focus on what the residual breathing muscles can do and teach SCI patients to use all working muscles better. Our highly successful gradient protocol moves away from the “pass/fail” approach used by acute-care hospitals and other rehabilitation facilities. The steps to independence are smaller, but the progress is surer. See also Diaphragmatic Pacing Program.
  • Our Nursing Team has achieved Magnet status 4X in a row, a distinction for nursing excellence held by only 2% of all U.S. hospitals. Our SCI nurses specialize in this field, and they are an important part of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s nursing team.

Your Goals are The Goal


  • Your Individual treatment plan is led by your physician and developed by a highly collaborative, integrated team.
  • Your SCI specialist physician will do rounds each morning and huddle with your clinical care team to review your progress and goals.
  • Your integrated team can include one or more physicians, therapists, a care manager, a psychologist, specialized SCI nurses and patient care technicians. Together they enable us to provide both physical, cognitive and mental health care.
  • As a patient in the leading research-based rehabilitation hospital, you will have access to the latest research and clinical trials. Research-focused scientists, physicians and technologists are embedded into our clinical spaces. Together they conduct ongoing clinical studies to help increase the speed of recovery and improve outcomes. You may qualify to participate in some of the studies focusing on SCI while an inpatient or throughout your continuum of care (including DayRehab® and/or outpatient care).

Tackle Therapy in our First-ever Ability Labs


Therapy (Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech Language Pathology, Respiratory Therapy)

  • Our treatment approach means that your therapy will be intensive — but always aligned with your state of healing as determined by your doctor. Typically, SCI inpatients will participate in different types of therapy for 3 hours a day/5 days a week.
  • You will work with your therapists in our one-of-a-kind Ability Labs that specialize in areas of function important to our patients:  (Arms + Hands Lab, Legs + Walking Lab, Strength + Endurance Lab, Think + Speak Lab, Pediatric Lab). These uniquely open and lively areas are equipped with state-of-the-art tools, devices and machines — some invented by our scientists and doctors — coupled with floor-to-ceiling windows. The light-filled Ability Labs are energizing and motivating. High-tech equipment used by patients with SCI include these examples, among many others:
    • Exoskeletons
    • A Lokomat® and similar devices.
    • Body-weight-supported treadmills.
    • Stair-climbing harness system; our design and engineering, one of a kind, covers entire perimeter of Strength + Endurance Lab
    • Miles of overhead-harness walking track.
  • Equally inspiring, these open spaces foster a sense of community with our staff and other patients — a sense that we’re all in this journey together!
  • Each Ability Lab is adjacent to a specially configured room for working with your occupational therapist (OT) on Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). An ADL room is equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and laundry room to help you practice in an in-home environment. These rooms can be configured to reflect your next living space, for example, you might have an island rather than counters, or drawer knobs rather than handles.

Aquatic Therapy

Our in-hospital Aquatic Center offers a therapeutically heated 33’ x 22’ pool. Because of the specific properties of water, aquatic therapy increases the speed of healing and improves outcomes. Increased buoyancy, resistance and hydrostatic pressure decrease pressure on joints, making it possible to “unweight” your body.

Warmth and increased motion lead to increased muscle activity, which in turn improves circulation and decreases inflammation and pain. Patients with spinal cord injury or neuro-musculoskeletal conditions are among the many who benefit greatly from aquatic therapy. Patients love it!

“I can stand and walk on my own in the pool, which I can’t do on land … yet. The water also frees me from being afraid of falling.”

“My body feels heavy, but when I’m in the pool, it’s like flying.”

“Therapy is really hard, but in the water it doesn’t hurt as much. In the water, I can move my legs a little, which I can’t do ordinarily. It’s also just comforting and relaxing, like a warm bath.”

Music, Art & Pet Therapy

Healing begins from within. Creative energy restores and refreshes, as does cuddling with one of our therapy dogs, Wrigley or Louis. We offer these fun, optional therapies to all. Each type of therapy is led by licensed clinicians in each discipline.

Rest & Recovery

  • After a long day of therapy, your room is your personal space to rest, reconnect with yourself, family and friends — to recover. All rooms for patients with SCI:
    • Are private
    • Include an overheard lift to maximize SCI patient safety
    • Feature extra-large bathrooms with accessible showers
    • Are equipped with voice-controlled, patient-staff communication devices
    • Feature voice-controlled room temperature and window shades
    • Offer a sofa that converts to a bed for overnight guests

SCI Specialty Services & Educational Resources


We offer a wide array of programs and training to help you and your family feel informed, comfortable and confident — both during your inpatient stay, as well as during your transition to home or your next level of care. Click below to view all the specialty services we offer for spinal cord injury recovery patients.

SCI Adaptive Technology & Equipment


  • Our on-site Assistive Technology Center identifies and/or creates adaptive equipment that enables our SCI patients to use personal phones, laptops, tablets and other devices. Some options include voice-, eye- or breath-controlled devices.
  • Our on-site Wheelchair Seating & Positioning Clinic is staffed with licensed physical therapists, engineers and others trained in the science and art of customizing each wheelchair to meet the needs of the patient.
  • Manual Wheelchair Maintenance Clinic teaches techniques and tools for basic adjustments, repair and upkeep.
  • An Adaptive Sports Program, including basketball, sled hockey, rugby, among many others.

We’re here whenever you need us — Continuum of Care


To make sure you have convenient access to the best ongoing rehabilitation therapy, we offer our evidence-based practices to you as an inpatient or outpatient.

  • Outpatients can engage in day-long therapy in one of our DayRehab® Centers, or
  • By appointment at either the main hospital or at one of the five outpatient Centers, which are located throughout the Chicagoland area.

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