Acute care rehab vs sub-acute care rehab. What is the difference?

Physical rehabilitation or “Rehab” is a treatment program which aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life of patients who have physical disabilities or impairments that affect the spinal cord, bones, joints, tendons, nerves, and the brain. In this article, we will focus on explaining the differences between acute care rehab and sub-acute care rehab.

What is Acute Care Rehab?

Acute care rehabilitation is an intensive form of medical rehabilitation that is appropriate for individuals who require medical treatment in combination with close monitoring for an acute illness.

What is Sub-Acute Care Rehab?

Sub-acute care rehab requires less intensive medical management compared to acute care rehab but greater than what is provided at home or a traditional nursing home setting.

Who qualifies for acute care rehabilitation and sub-acute care rehab?

Acute Rehabilitation Admission Criteria

Individuals who qualify for treatment at an acute rehabilitation facility are those who can benefit from intensive multidisciplinary rehabilitation. These are patients who have suffered a heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, or a debilitating disease such as COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Other individuals who can benefit from acute care rehab are patients who have had certain types of surgery.

Sub-Acute Care Admission Criteria

Sub-acute care rehab is less rigorous than acute care rehab. Patients who qualify are those who need complex wound care, therapy, IV therapy, and treatment of malnutrition among others.

Other Differences between Acute Care Rehab and Sub-acute Care Rehab

Differences between acute care and subacute care


What are the benefits of Acute Care Rehab Treatments?

  1. Critically ill patients will benefit with early intervention thus, maximizing functionality during the patient’s recovery and healing process.
  2. A multidisciplinary team approach is used.
  3. Generally, safety assessments, balance screenings, assistive device training and family training are conducted to ensure safe discharge from the hospital.

What are the benefits of Sub-acute Care Rehab Treatments?

  1. The main focus of the treatment is to successfully support the patient’s return to his/her residence and regain his/her independence after being hospitalized for surgery or a debilitating illness.
  2. For patients who may not be hospitalized but finding it difficult to manage everyday tasks in their normal environment, sub-acute care can also help.

There are other rehabilitation procedures that are available to patients in addition to acute care rehab and sub-acute care. These are inpatient rehab and rehabilitation services offered at skilled nursing facilities.

What is the difference between Acute Care and Inpatient Rehab?

Acute care is suitable for patients who will benefit from an intensive, multidisciplinary rehabilitation program. They receive physical, occupational and speech therapy as needed. These patients are medically managed by physicians who have been specially trained in rehab.

Inpatient rehab is required for patients who need intensive (24-hour) therapy services and medical management. Patients receive care coordinated by a doctor who specializes in rehabilitation medicine and nurses with specialized rehabilitation training. Typically, the length of stay for inpatient rehab is approximately 10 to 14 days.

After inpatient rehab, most patients go home with outpatient rehab or home health services.

Acute Rehab vs Skilled Nurse Facility

Acute rehab is usually based in a hospital. This program helps patients who have suffered some major injury, disorder or illness to regain the skills that they need to return to everyday living. This program covers everything from regaining the ability to walk after an amputation, to talking after suffering a stroke, to being able to take medications safely after a serious illness.

A skilled nurse facility is where some patients are sent when they no longer need the amount of care provided in the hospital but they need more care than they and/or their loved ones can manage at home.

Other factors that may prevent a patient from going directly home from the hospital are:

  1. The patient does not have enough help at home.
  2. Because of the physical layout of the patient’s home, he/she needs to be stronger or more mobile before going home.
  3. The patient has a medical condition such as diabetes, heart or lung problems that are not well-controlled.
  4. The patient is required to take medicines that cannot safely be given at home.
  5. The patient has surgical wounds that need frequent care.

Sub-Acute Rehab vs. Skilled Nursing Facility

Sub-acute rehab is a short stay inpatient service designed for patients who no longer need acute care or comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation but are not yet able to function at their best and require continued medical management.

A skilled nursing facility offers short-term care for patients recovering from an injury or illness, as well as long-term care for individuals who no longer can stay at home.

At the skilled nursing facility, a doctor will supervise the patient’s care and other trained health care professionals will help the patient to regain his/her strength:

  • Physical therapists will teach patients how to make their muscles stronger. They may help patients how to get up and sit down safely from a chair, bed, or toilet. They may also help patients to relearn how to walk, climb steps and keep his/her balance. They may also teach patients how to use a cane, walker, or crutches.


  • Occupational therapists will teach patients the skills they need to do everyday tasks at home.


  • Speech and language therapists evaluate and treat problems with swallowing, speaking, and understanding.


  • Registered nurses will care for the patients’ wound, give the right medicines, and monitor other medical problems.


These are the different rehab programs that are available to patients.

At Vigor Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, we offer the full spectrum of the most effective techniques available to ensure you experience optimal recovery results.

If you want to discuss what treatment is best suited for you, contact us today for a consultation.