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A person in a hospital bed.

It can be hard to deal with acute health issues. These conditions or injuries come on suddenly, require care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility, and can overwhelm the patient and their caregivers. 

If you have an acute health issue, a team of medical experts may provide your care in one or more of the following settings, depending on how quickly you recover:

  • The emergency department, hospital, or intensive care unit.
  • A long-term acute care facility.
  • Skilled nursing home.

Physical therapists, who specialize in acute care, are important members of that team.

Acutely ill patients can develop new problems as a result of spending time in the hospital. These problems include weakness and mobility issues. Early treatment by a physical therapist can help you avoid or lessen these problems by getting you up and out of bed and helping you safely move. Physical therapists help you keep your mobility and strength during and after your hospital stay.

Here are some of the benefits of visits by an acute care physical therapist:

1. Prevent decline with early mobility

Physical therapists are movement experts who work with medical teams to ensure safe movement and mobility. Research has shown patients in the hospital are not nearly as active as they are at home, spending 93% to 98% of the time in bed, and walking less than 1,000 steps a day. Early mobility during the hospital stay has been shown to lead to numerous positive effects, such as prevention of pneumonia and blood clots.

Physical therapists teach patients how to move safely in all areas of the hospital, including the intensive care unit. Patients in the intensive care unit who receive skilled physical therapist treatment report being more independent with activities, such as rolling in bed, standing, and walking.

2. Physical therapist-prescribed exercise programs improve outcomes and decrease hospital stays.

Whether you are recovering from a fracture or surgery, or dealing with weakness from a stroke or other condition, your physical therapist will perform an evaluation to create an individualized plan to improve your strength and physical function to help you safely become independent and decrease your time spent in the hospital. Your physical therapist also will educate you and your caregiver on strategies to manage your physical activity after you leave the hospital. Research has shown that if you follow your physical therapy treatment plan, you may decrease your time in the hospital and reduce your chances of being readmitted.

3. Safe discharge planning

Physical therapists play a significant role in discharge planning. They screen for continued therapy services after hospital discharge and recommend an appropriate therapy setting to meet your needs. Your physical therapist also will help educate your caregivers on how to exercise and move safely at home, and provide training on the use of mobility equipment like walkers, crutches, and canes to encourage independence. Studies have shown when a physical therapist's recommendations were not followed, patients were 2.9 times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital.

If you or a loved one is admitted to the hospital for an acute injury or illness, speak with your medical team to ensure a physical therapist is part of your treatment during your hospital stay, and for some people, after discharge. 

Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. 


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Baldwin C, van Kessel G, Phillips A, Johnston K. Accelerometry shows inpatients with acute medical or surgical conditions spend little time upright and are highly sedentary: systematic review. Phys Ther. 2017;97(11):1044–1065. Article Summary in PubMed.

Ramos Dos Santos PM, Aquaroni Ricci N, Aparecida Bordignon Suster E, de Moraes Paisani D, Dias Chiavegato L. Effects of early mobilisation in patients after cardiac surgery: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2017;103:1–12. Article Summary in PubMed.

Falvey JR, Burke RE, Malone D, Ridgeway KJ, McManus BM, Stevens-Lapsley JE. Role of physical therapists in reducing hospital readmissions: optimizing outcomes for older adults during care transitions from hospital to community. Phys Ther. 2016;96(8):1125–1134. Free Article.

Smith BA, Fields CJ, Fernandez N. Physical therapists make accurate and appropriate discharge recommendations for patients who are acutely ill. Phys Ther. 2010;90(5):693–703. Free Article.

Needham DM, Korupolu R, Zanni JM, et al. Early physical medicine and rehabilitation for patients with acute respiratory failure: a quality improvement project. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2010;91(4):536–542. Article Summary in PubMed.

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