UI Spine Rehabilitation Program

The Spine Rehabilitation Program is a comprehensive two-week program that involves a firm commitment from you to change how you deal with chronic pain.

The program helps you develop skills to manage your pain more effectively while improving your quality of life. All activities take place in the UI Spine Rehabilitation Program, an outpatient group setting where you learn and work with others who also experience chronic spine pain.

The goal of the program is to help you develop a clear plan for the future that will allow you to:

  • Become more active and stay active
  • Understand the role of conditioning and fitness to manage pain
  • Use medication safely and appropriately
  • Learn new psychological skills to cope with stress and pain
  • Develop a vocational plan

Our program has been in existence for over 20 years. Patients treated in an interdisciplinary setting function better, have higher rates of returning to work, and have reduced the duration of pain. The benefits of interdisciplinary treatment can be maintained for a lifetime.

Our success is due, in part, to an excellent staff dedicated to treating complex patients with chronic pain. The medical director of the program, Dr. Chen, is a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Our interdisciplinary team includes a social worker, a psychologist, physical therapists, and a vocational counselor.

A typical day of group activities includes:

  • Movement therapy
  • Lectures and/or discussions
  • Conditioning activities
  • Training in coping skills
  • Activities modifications
  • Functional restoration activities
  • Vocational counseling
  • Leisure activities


Integrated Care Approach

To handle the challenges involved with diagnosing and treating chronic spine pain, the spine rehabilitation team combines its skills into a multidisciplinary team, integrated spine-care approach. Our program incorporates:


Some of the lectures describe pain mechanisms, explain how your spine can be solid, stable, and healed and still hurt and explain the difference between acute pain (short-term, warning) and chronic pain (long-term, non-warning).

  • Patients learn to dispel myths and misunderstandings about the spine.
  • Patients are taught a wide array of exercises and cognitive skills that affect spine health and emotional well being. What is understood is much easier to deal with than what is not understood.

Physical and Aerobic Conditioning

Patients learn the benefits of physical exercise and conditioning to increase:

  • Strength—using proper body mechanics
  • Flexibility—developing supple muscles
  • Endurance—developing staying power

Coping Skills

We use the term "coping skills" to refer to a variety of skills and techniques taught for pain management. All of these skills have a psychological component to them. Coping skills are sometimes referred to as "mind-body" techniques because they integrate both the mind and body for pain management.

Coping skills are taught in a group setting, using psycho-educational and group therapy/support techniques. While we validate the experience and stress of chronic pain, we do not dwell on pain. Instead, we focus on moving toward a more functional future.

Relaxation exercises to deal with stress and pain:

We teach various breathing and relaxation exercises to help patients learn to decrease unnecessary muscle tension and release the naturally occurring pain relieving responses by the body. We teach patients about these naturally occurring processes as a way of increasing their perceived control over their pain.

Imagery to focus on things other than pain:

We talk with patients about the relationship between stress and pain, and help them identify better ways of managing their current stressors through problem solving, cognitive restructuring, and identifying myths.

Cognitive behavioral and mind/body techniques for pain management:

We work to build self-esteem and self-efficacy, helping patients rediscover a better quality of life. We look at personal strengths and talk about how people view and operate in the world in different ways. We extend this discussion to different ways people cope with the stressors related to chronic pain.

Vocational Exploration

During the Spine Rehabilitation Program, you will meet with a vocational counselor to:

  • Identify your vocational interests, work values, and transferable skills
  • Clarify your goals
  • Explore how networking, informational interviewing, and volunteering can be effective tools for your job search
  • Expand your job seeking skills, including resume and cover letter writing and improving interviewing skills
  • Learn more about the current job market and career opportunities


A Typical Day in the Spine Rehabilitation Program

The non-residential program runs two weeks, Monday through Friday with weekends off.

  • 8 a.m. -- Movement Therapy

    We start every morning with 35 minutes of stretching and strengthening to music. The program was developed with an aerobics instructor specifically for people with spine pain. There is no impact (jumping or bouncing) just stretching and strengthening with our staff members. It is a fun way to stretch out, loosen up and warm up for the day.

  • 9 a.m. -- Discussions/Vocational Exploration

    Lectures and discussions about issues regarding the spine include information about pain mechanisms—how something can be solid, stable, and healed and still hurt. The difference between acute and chronic pain will be explained.

    Vocational exploration encompasses a variety of topics to:

    • Expand your knowledge of your vocational interests, values, and employment goals
    • Improve your job seeking skills
    • Provide you with tools to assist you in reaching your employment goals


  • 10 a.m. -- Functional Restoration

    The purpose of this part of the program is to provide a means for patients to increase their level of physical function, a time when we expect you to stay physically busy.

  • 11 a.m. -- Coping Skills

    During the course of the program, patients meet daily with a psychologist to learn mind/body techniques for pain management and stress management. These sessions focus on cognitive behavioral techniques, building on the knowledge and skills learned from the previous session.

  • 1 p.m. -- Cardiovascular Conditioning

    Cardiovascular conditioning uses various types of exercise equipment including treadmills, bikes, steppers, ski machines, and the use of a pool. Each day, you will exercise using all or some of these pieces of equipment. During your evaluation, you complete a graded exercise test establishing a baseline for your functional level and determining an appropriate pace for your exercise at home.

  • 2 p.m. -- Functional Restoration

    There are two blocks of time in the afternoon to cover other areas of functional restoration. This includes instructions in activity modification to give you more options for doing activities across the day. We also address stretching, strength training, and balance work exercises.

  • 2:30 p.m. -- Learning to Modify Activities of Daily Living--

  • 3 p.m. -- Relaxation Training

    Each day ends with relaxation training, applying the mind/body techniques taught in coping skills. This session gives you an opportunity to practice a method of pain management that encourages self-reliance on pain management techniques and is one of the first steps in effective managing of chronic pain.