Integrating Function-Directed Treatments into Palliative Care

Andrea L. Cheville, Melissa Morrow, Sean Robinson Smith, Jeffrey R. Basford

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The growing acceptance of palliative care has created opportunities to increase the use of rehabilitation services among populations with advanced disease, particularly those with cancer. Broader delivery has been impeded by the lack of a shared definition for palliative rehabilitation and a mismatch between patient needs and established rehabilitation service delivery models. We propose the definition that, in the advanced cancer population, palliative rehabilitation is function-directed care delivered in partnership with other clinical disciplines and aligned with the values of patients who have serious and often incurable illnesses in contexts marked by intense and dynamic symptoms, psychological stress, and medical morbidity to realize potentially time-limited goals. Although palliative rehabilitation is most often delivered by inpatient physical medicine and rehabilitation consultation/liaison services and by physical therapists in skilled nursing facilities, outcomes in these settings have received little scrutiny. In contrast, outpatient cancer rehabilitation programs have gained robust evidentiary support attesting to their benefits across diverse settings. Advancing palliative rehabilitation will require attention to historical barriers to the uptake of cancer rehabilitation services, which include the following: patient and referring physicians’ expectation that effective cancer treatment will reverse disablement; breakdown of linear models of disablement due to presence of concurrent symptoms and psychological distress; tension between reflexive palliation and impairment-directed treatment; palliative clinicians’ limited familiarity with manual interventions and rehabilitation services; and challenges in identifying receptive patients with the capacity to benefit from rehabilitation services. The effort to address these admittedly complex issues is warranted, as consideration of function in efforts to control symptoms and mood is vital to optimize patients’ autonomy and quality of life. In addition, manual rehabilitation modalities are effective and drug sparing in the alleviation of adverse symptoms but are markedly underused. Realizing the potential synergism of integrating rehabilitation services in palliative care will require intensification of interdisciplinary dialogue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S335-S346
JournalPM and R
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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