Palliative Physiotherapy

Palliative care is a very sensitive aspect of healthcare, and one that is difficult for healthcare professionals, patients, and their families.

What is palliative care and who does it affect?

In instances where a patient’s condition is terminal treatment becomes focussed on symptom management rather than cure, and this is what is commonly known as palliative care. The purpose of palliative care is to reduce pain and discomfort and improve quality of life for a patient as the disease progresses. Examples of palliative conditions are for example organ failure, heart failure, degenerative neurological disorders like Huntington’s, some forms of cancer, and HIV/AIDS.

Palliative physiotherapy

Palliative care is administered by an interdisciplinary team that care for a patient’s emotional and psychological state as much as, if not more than, their physical symptoms. This network will include physiotherapists as well as social workers, psychologists, and a wealth of other professionals.

Physiotherapists working in palliative care focus on maintaining mobility and managing pain and emotional well being as much as possible, this can be quite difficult for the physiotherapist who is aware that the purpose of their care is to make someone as comfortable as possible for their passing. Palliative physiotherapy in most NHS trusts will be conducted where a patient feels most comfortable, and if it is the patient’s preference, their appointments can be kept at home.

Pain relief can be provided by therapeutic massage or exercise, as well as other means like hydrotherapy and electrotherapy. A physio will also aim to keep the patient mobile and self sufficient by having them exercise regularly and for example in the instance of degenerative neurological disease, strengthen muscles and maintaining coordination in areas that are adversely affected.

Other symptoms and issues a physiotherapist in a palliative capacity may deal with are fatigue and breathlessness. In terminal lung cancer for instance patients are almost constantly on oxygen and so need to be educated on its appropriate use and motivated to keep mobile. While extremely difficult, movement is important even in these extreme cases.

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