Chapter 14

Physical therapists are responsible for the exercise prescription and management of patients with neurological disorders. Physical therapists can best treat patients with neurological illnesses by focusing on neurological impairments, functional limitations, and participation outcomes while considering the cardiopulmonary system. The cardiopulmonary system plays an important role in functional activities because of its role in transporting oxygen to skeletal muscle. Abnormalities in the cardiopulmonary system can produce limitations in movement and thus functional outcomes.

Patients with neurological deficits have a particular problem of deconditioning due to hospitalization or inactivity as a result of their disease or illness. This deconditioning could mean the difference between independence and dependence in activities of daily living (ADL). Physical therapists are the first health care professionals to note the functional impact of cardiopulmonary limitations because of the way that their patients are challenged through exercises and position changes in the provision of physical therapy.

Furthermore, physical therapists can contribute to the prevention of cardiopulmonary complications of immobility, weakness, and exercise intolerance. Individuals with neurological injuries, who are within age ranges where cardiac risk factors are high, may be even more at risk during activity or exercise. In the existing health care environment, these neurological patients may be discharged from the acute care hospital in a fragile cardiopulmonary state. Therefore, significant focus must be placed on the cardiopulmonary status of patients with neurological illnesses who demonstrate activity and exercise risk factors.

It is ultimately the intent of this chapter to make the reader familiar with the Guide to Physical Therapist Practice (2nd ed.) as it relates to evidence-based treatment of cardiopulmonary disorders for neurological patients. Therapists must select the primary practice pattern that is evident at the time of intervention, taking into account all comorbid conditions. When patients with neurological disorders are “triaged” into the cardiopulmonary practice patterns, it is assumed that the cardiopulmonary status becomes the primary focus of the intervention. With this in mind, this chapter provides guidelines regarding the factors associated with activity and exercise that influence the exercise ability for patients with neurological impairments. This chapter also makes recommendations for common tests and measures used for exercise testing and describes the physiological responses to exercise, including the effect of medications. Finally, the intent is to make recommendations for exercise training interventions and identify other benefits of exercise for patients with neurological disorders.

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