Physiotherapy following a brain injury
Physiotherapy can play a very important role during a patient’s recovery following a brain injury.
Not only can physiotherapists help people physically, by restoring movement and function, but also mentally in terms of improving their well-being and fitness levels.
Physiotherapists achieve this through a holistic approach, focusing on their client’s body as a whole rather than the one affected area. They are able to do this through exercise and movement, as well as providing advice and education.
More specifically, neurological physiotherapists focus on treating people that have suffered from problems with the body’s nervous and neuromuscular system. Brain injuries can result in damage to your central nervous system meaning that the messages from your brain are not reaching the affected parts of your body. This can result in parts of your body experiencing a loss of sensation, uncoordinated movement, weak muscles and spasms. Neurological therapy essentially attempts to re-train your brain to use these message pathways by making new pathways through exercises and repetitive actions. For example, if someone had a weak left arm, the physiotherapist may practice exercises with the right arm in a sling so the left arm can strengthen.
The neurological physiotherapist will first assess their patient to evaluate their movement abilities and identify muscle weakness. Crucially, they will also discuss the patient’s personal goals. The individual’s goals will differ depending on the severity of the brain injury’s effect on their movement and also depending on their age. For example, a child’s goal may be to play football in the playground again whereas an adults might be to drive or return to work. Ultimately, the patient wants to improve their physical ability to enable them to become as mobile and independent as possible. The physiotherapist will work with both the patient and their family to continue to develop goals whilst addressing challenges and functional limitations. The physiotherapist might also be part of a multi-disciplinary rehabilitation team, in which case the professionals will work together and coordinate their programmes to ensure the patient has the support they need for their rehabilitation.
As no brain injury is the same, physiotherapists tailor their programmes to the patient. For those that are unable to move, the focus is on ensuring the patient is positioned correctly and has proper posture and flexibility. This can reduce issues, such as bed sores. For patients with more ability, they can have more engaging sessions combining exercises with task-specific training for example, moving themselves from the bed into a wheelchair.
After a brain injury, the patient may receive intense neurological physiotherapy as an inpatient in hospital or a neurological rehabilitation centre. When they are ready to return home, they can continue to receive therapy in their home or within local community facilities.
Specifically, neurological physiotherapists can help patients by;
- Strengthening muscles
- Increasing joint flexibility
- Improving their balance and coordination
- Assisting them in using specialist equipment such as a wheelchair
- Helping them to practice completing functional activities independently
- Improving their mobility
The success of neurological physiotherapy depends on many factors. Most importantly, the patient must be willing to learn, participate and become empowered through their continuing physical improvement.