Resource type: Article

Physiotherapy: what can family do to help on the ward?

Common problems after Intensive Care

Patients are often immobile (lying still) for much of their time in Intensive Care, sometimes resulting in general stiffness or painful joints, especially in the knees and shoulders. They can also lose muscle as a result of being so ill, especially in the legs, which often results in general weakness and problems with mobility. This can mean that patients may become tired or short of breath when beginning to mobilise on the general ward. Not everyone is affected this way, although all of these problems can be more severe among patients who've spent longer in Intensive Care.

Help with exercises

The ward physiotherapists have many patients to see during the course of their day, which may mean that they may not see your family member as often or for as long as you might hope. Research suggests that patients may be less likely to exercise without supervision, so any encouragement and help you are able to give is likely to be useful.You should first ask the physiotherapist about the types of exercises you can help your family member with. They may be able to give you a leaflet.

Help with walking

Many patients have problems with mobility after Intensive Care, as a result of stiffness, joint pain, muscle wasting and fatigue. Research suggests that patients may be less likely to mobilise without supervision, so any encouragement and help you are able to give is likely to be useful.This might include things like short walks up and down the corridor,off the ward to the hospital shop or canteen or perhaps outside.

Some patients have temporary problems with balance or may still be too weak or tired, so it is very important that you ask the ward nurses or physiotherapist before you do this.You may have to ask the nurses to arrange for a wheelchair to be made available to you as patients can tire surprisingly quickly.

Taking your family member off the ward

Other patients have told us that they found short trips off the ward really helpful, by providing an enjoyable change of scenery. This might include short trips to the hospital shop or canteen or perhaps outside (weather permitting!).

Please ask the ward staff or physiotherapist before you do this, as your family member may still be too weak or tired or may have temporary problems with balance.You may have to ask the nurses to arrange for a wheelchair to be made available to you as patients can tire surprisingly quickly.

Ask to speak with the ward physiotherapist

If you have any concerns about your family member's mobility or ability to take part in exercises as part of their rehabilitation, ask the nurses to arrange a meeting with the ward physiotherapist. She or he will be able to give you advice on the things you can do to help with your family member's recovery while they are in hospital and after they get home.