Taking a trip to the hospital isn’t usually at the top of anyone’s list of favorite things to do, but for one reason or another, more than 36 million people are admitted to the hospital in the United States every year, according to the American Hospital Association .
Many of these visits are for minor problems or outpatient procedures, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 2.7 million of people admitted to the hospital will remain there for one or more nights.
The longer your hospital stay, the more likely it is you will experience reduced physical function when you leave. This can mean more pain, longer recovery time and a higher chance of hospital readmission. In fact, about one-fifth of Medicare patients discharged from the hospital will be re-hospitalized within 30 days, according to the New England Journal of Medicine , leading to the likelihood of further health complications and an even greater decrease in physical function.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for improving physical outcomes following a hospital stay, patients whose discharge plans include physical therapy tend to have improved health outcomes in both the short and long run. Here are some of the benefits of physical therapy following discharge from a hospital.
Lower chance of readmission
A study published by the National Institutes of Health looked at older adults with Medicare who were admitted to the hospital for pneumonia treatment. Researchers found that receiving physical therapy for 30 minutes or more per day significantly reduced a patient’s chances of hospital readmission.
“Increasing physical therapist participation during care transitions may contribute to even better identification and treatment of those older adults at highest risk for hospital readmission,” the researchers wrote. “Physical therapists may be the optimal medical professionals to identify and manage functional decline before, during, and after an acute hospitalization.”
Pain is a common side effect following a hospital stay, whether surgery-related or from muscle fatigue. Those feelings of discomfort can lengthen recovery time and hamper patients’ abilities to care for themselves.
Physical therapy has been found to help address sources of chronic pain, including osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, rheumatoid arthritis and neuropathy, according to Everyday Health . Pain management methods might include soft tissue mobilization, limb manipulation, manual therapy, cold laser therapy, microcurrent stimulation and exercise.
An experienced physical therapist will consult with a patient to determine pain level and offer alternatives to over-the-counter or prescription drugs for pain management.
Improved strength and balance
Even a short hospital stay can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to walk and maintain balance, especially if the patient is elderly.
“It is estimated that people in the hospital can lose between 2 and 5% of muscle mass each day due to that prolonged bed rest,” says Mary Pisano, a physical therapist with Solaris Healthcare . “This is where a trained physical therapist will assess the needs of the individual, the disability that has occurred and the prior level of function of that person.”
Physical therapists can develop personalized plans that address patients’ specific needs. An elderly patient will require a different treatment plan to return to full strength compared to a young person because of variations in fitness levels and the differences between how patients of different ages gain muscle mass.
For more information on how physical therapy can benefit a patient after a hospital stay, call or visit