4 Physiotherapy Techniques Used in Palliative Care

When a loved one is diagnosed with terminal illness, their family opts for home-based care. They assume that institutional-based palliative care is expensive and does not offer more than they can provide at home while spending as much time as possible with the patient. To them, palliative care only involves keeping patients comfortable, and as long as they are fed and cleaned, the patients are okay. Professional palliative care, however, involves more than good grooming and feeding.

There are different care modalities used in palliative care at an Indiana-based facility for the well-being of a patient suffering from a life-limiting illness. One of these modalities is physiotherapy. You might assume that physiotherapy is a rigorous care technique best reserved for people who can handle the stress. On the contrary, palliative care has shown to slow down the progression of a disease, alleviate physical and emotional discomfort, and improve a patient’s quality of life. Taking this into account, here are some of the physiotherapy techniques employed in palliative care.


Most patients will become weak towards the end of their lives when battling a terminal condition that takes a toll on their bodies. Walking is the most functional exercise that these patients should engage in. If they cannot support themselves, the physiotherapist will use different mobility aids, including walkers and canes. Ambulation reduces muscle stiffness, promotes a weight-bearing posture, and aids digestion and circulation. The change of scenery that walking gives also improves a patient’s emotional well-being.

Bed Exercises

Nurse tucking in senior

Bed exercises are done by bedridden patients, but they can also be done as additional exercises for patients who can walk. Passive and active range of motion or stretching exercises are the ones generally done in bed exercises. These exercises minimize contractures, muscle wasting, and restlessness while promoting vascular and circulation dynamics. Bed exercises can also maintain a patient’s connective tissue, joint mobility, and awareness of movement.

Respiratory Physiotherapy

Most terminal conditions affect the operation of the lungs and make breathing uncomfortable and difficult for a patient. Respiratory physiotherapy centers on relaxation, pacing, and coughing techniques. It includes breathing exercises, too. Postural drainage and pummeling are also done with pulmonary secretions when ordered by the patient’s primary care physician.


TENS (trans-electrical nerve stimulation) is a physiotherapy pain control modality. Other than pain relief, TENS is used for muscle strengthening and the promotion of wound healing. There are different types of TENS, including the burst, acupuncture-like, and conventional modes. The conventional mode is used for severe pain, and its effects last for at least 24 hours while the acupuncture-like mode promotes the production of endorphins which in turn reduce pain and promote a ‘’happy’’ feeling. Lastly, the burst mode is administered in “packages’’ or ‘’bursts.’’

The above physiotherapy techniques will make a significant difference in your loved one’s comfort when facing a terminal diagnosis. However, there are various tests used to assess how much a patient can tolerate and tailor palliative physiotherapy for them to avert adverse effects. Administering some of the above exercises at home without a professional’s input will only put your loved one at risk of fractures and other conditions and increase their discomfort.

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