The international classification of functioning, disability and health (ICF): A unifying model for the conceptual description of the rehabilitation strategy

Gerold Stucki, Alarcos Cieza and John Melvin
DOI: 10.2340/16501977-0041


An important basis for the successful development of rehabilitation practice and research is a conceptually sound description of rehabilitation understood as a health strategy based on a universally accepted conceptual model and taxonomy of human functioning. With the approval of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) by the World Health Assembly in 2001 and the reference to the ICF in the World Health Assembly’s resolution on “Disability, including prevention, management and rehabilitation” in 2005, we can now rely on a universally accepted conceptual model. It is thus time to initiate the process of evolving an ICF-based conceptual description that can serve as a basis for similar conceptual descriptions and according definitions of the professions applying the rehabilitation strategy and of distinct scientific fields of human functioning and rehabilitation research. In co-operation with the Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (PRM) section of the European Union of Medical Specialists (UEMS) and its professional practice committee, we present a first tentative version of an ICF-based conceptual description in this paper. A brief definition describes rehabilitation as the health strategy applied by PRM and professionals in the health sector and across other sectors that aims to enable people with health conditions experiencing or likely to experience disability to achieve and maintain optimal functioning in interaction with the environment. Readers of the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine are invited to contribute towards achieving an internationally accepted ICF-based conceptual description of rehabilitation by submitting commentaries to the Editor of this journal.

Supplementary content