Palliative Care: Physical Therapy Can Improve Lupus Patients’ Quality Of Life

Palliative care used to be a part of hospice and only for those who were terminally ill. Now it has become a collaborative effort of the entire medical team for any patient with a serious illness which affects their quality of life. For systemic lupus sufferers, physical therapy is a big part of the picture.

Why Do Lupus Patients Need Physical Therapy?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) attacks every system in the body. Some of the most limiting manifestations are lupus related joint and muscle pain, and extreme fatigue. The disability associated with these conditions can keep lupus patients from getting enough exercise, which only tends to worsen their condition. Physical therapy helps in a number of ways, including:

  • Maintaining mobility
  • Building strength
  • Increasing endurance
  • Improving and maintaining cardiac health
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Maintaining strong bones
  • Improving mood and sleep patterns

What Types of Physical Therapy Benefits Lupus Sufferers the Most?

Range of motion and strength building exercises are both very important to those with lupus. Cardio conditioning is essential, since heart disease is the major cause of death in systemic lupus patients. Studies show that aqua therapy is effective due to the minimal joint stress when exercising in water. The buoyancy of the water can alleviate as much as 90% of a person's body weight, decompressing the spine and peripheral joints. This allows the patient to enjoy a longer period of exercise, making it much more beneficial.

What Are Other Physical Therapy Modalities For Lupus Patients?

In addition to physical exercise, other types of physical therapy are available for lupus patients, which include but are not limited to:

  • Massage
  • Traction therapy
  • Compression therapy for lymphodema
  • Passive joint manipulation
  • Breathing exercise
  • Neuromuscular stimulation
  • Functional electric stimulation
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Cryotherapy
  • Deep heat therapy
  • Hydrotherapy

What is the Goal of Physical Therapy for Lupus?

The main goal of using physical therapy for treating systemic lupus is to improve or maintain the quality of the patient's life. This can be achieved by improvement of overall physical condition or simply by using therapies that alleviate pain and improve mobility. Adjunct palliative therapies, such as cognitive or psychological therapy, can be enhanced by improvement of the patient's physical condition. When a person feels physically stronger and is in less pain, it can brighten their outlook on life and even enhance their mental abilities.

Physical therapy includes a wide range of treatment modalities that can be customized to fit into any palliative care program for lupus. There are options for all levels of ability or disability. It can be regenerative or simply serve to treat pain. Talk to your doctor about including physical therapy as part of your palliative care plan.