Heart and Vascular Rehabilitation

Heart and Vascular Rehabilitation

Heart and Vascular Rehabilitation

Northwestern Medicine offers customized, multidisciplinary cardiac rehabilitation services to promote better heart health and long-term well-being, whether you’ve faced heart issues since birth or developed heart disease as an adult.


The American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation has studied the long-term benefits of cardiac rehabilitation. These demonstrated benefits include:

  • A 20 to 30 percent reduction in deaths from all causes
  • Decreased mortality up to five years after participating in a rehabilitation program
  • Return to work and performing activities of daily living
  • Reduced symptoms of angina, difficulty breathing, fatigue and heart attack
  • Increased exercise performance and leisure activities
  • Improved quality of life and emotional health, including a decrease in anxiety and depression
  • Reduced hospitalizations and improved cholesterol

Our heart and vascular rehabilitation services offer these benefits to patients who have undergone:

  • Cardiac surgery: Following heart surgery, physical and occupational therapists will work with you to maximize your independence with mobility and self-care. Depending on the type of incision your heart surgeon used, you will have specific instructions to follow after surgery. We will provide education to help you understand why you must be cautious during the recovery process. Physical therapy will focus on following precautions while carefully increasing activity and exercise, to minimize pain and injury while you recover. Occupational therapy will focus on maintaining those precautions during self-care activities, including dressing and bathing.
  • Heart transplant and VAD implantation: Patients with heart failure who are no longer responding to medical therapy may require heart transplantation. Some patients receive a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) while awaiting a transplant, and others who are not candidates for transplantation receive a VAD as a way to prolong their life and optimize their quality of life. If you are recovering from either heart transplantation or VAD implantation, you will receive rehabilitation services as part of your recovery. Physical therapists will assist you with initial mobilization following the surgery and will start a walking program with you as soon as it is medically appropriate after surgery. Your therapist will educate you about how to safely and gradually increase your daily activities. Occupational therapy will focus on conserving your energy and following precautions during self-care activities.
  • Vascular surgery: Vascular surgery is performed to help manage disease of the arteries and veins. The types of vascular surgeries range from minimally invasive to traditional surgical reconstruction of arteries and, in severe cases, amputation. Patients recovering from vascular surgery often have difficulty walking due to pain, weakness and decreased range of motion. Physical therapists will train and educate you how to use assistive devices such as walkers, canes or crutches for mobility. In addition, they will develop an exercise program focused on regaining strength and range of motion of affected areas. If you are recovering from an amputation, physical therapy will focus on strengthening and stretching and will start educating you about mobility to prepare you for future use of a prosthetic limb. Occupational therapists will assist in your ability to perform self-care tasks.



  • Exercise Programs
  • Medication Management
  • Patient-Family Dietary Education
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Strategies for Greater Independence in Performing Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
  • Stress management