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Patient Information

Rehabilitation while you are in hospital

https://kingstonhospital.nhs.uk/information/occupational-therapy-rehabilitation-while-you-are-in-hospital

occupational therapy image

This leaflet explains how we can help you relearn your daily activities during your time in hospital. If you have further questions, please speak to the therapist or nurse caring for you.

How can occupational therapists help me?

Occupational therapists can help you relearn life skills, such as activities of daily living (for example grooming, feeding, dressing, banking and spending) and using your memory.

The main goals are to enable you to participate in activities of daily life to aid your recovery.

My personal goals

Things that are important for me



Things I want to do

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Functional exercises to do while you are in hospital

These activities can be done with your nurse or occupational therapist. They will help give a structure to your day whilst you are in hospital, and will help to re-enable familiar routines. 

Image of dressDressing: ask your nurse or loved one to set up loose clothing within easy reach.
Image of toiletToileting: turn on your side whilst the nurse is helping you, or ask to use the commode if you are able to.
Image of bathBathing: request a shower cap and bath gloves to freshen up.
Image of mealEating and drinking: ask to speak to your occupational therapist if you are having difficulty (for example using both hands to cut up food or drinking). They can recommend some adaptive aids to help you eat and drink.
Image of toothbrushPersonal care and hygiene: ask your nurse or loved one to set up the items you need if you are able.
Image of table and chairsGetting out of bed: ask your nurse to help you sit out in the morning.

Exercises to do while you are in hospital

These exercises are a gentle way to get your arms moving again while you are in hospital.

Active assisted hand on head

Active assisted hand on head
  1. With your arms hanging down, clasp your hands in front of you.
  2. Move your clasped hands behind your head without loosening your grip.
  3. Hold your hands behind your head for 5 seconds.
  4. Lower your arms and rest them loosely at your sides for 20 seconds.
  5. Repeat the exercise at least 5 times.

Active assisted hand on head to flexion (moving arms above head)

active assisted hand on head to flexion
  1. With your arms hanging down, clasp your hands in front of you.
  2. Move your clasped hands behind your head and point your elbows out to the side of your head, without loosening your grip.
  3. Raise your clasped hands above your head, hold them there for at least 5 seconds. Rest your hands back on your lap for 20 seconds.
  4. Repeat the exercise at least 5 times.

Active hand behind back and head

active hand behind back and head
  1. Touch the back of your neck with one hand and with the other hand, touch the small of your back (or even further up your spine if you are able). Hold your hands in place for 5 seconds.
  2. Drop your hands by your side and rest for 20 seconds.
  3. Switch hands and do the same behind-your-back movements.
  4. Repeat each movement at least 5 times.

Active shoulder abduction (moving arm away from body)

active shoulder abduction
  1. Drop one arm down so your palm is facing your hip. Raise your arm out to the side until it is level with your ear. Hold it for 5 seconds.
  2. Raise your arm so the hand is pointing up at the ceiling and hold it there for 5 seconds.
  3. Bring your hand back down to your side and rest for 20 seconds.
  4. Repeat this set of movements at least 5 times.
  5. Repeat the whole series of movements with your other arm.

Active shoulder flexion (moving arms above head)

active shoulder flexion

  1. Drop your arm so your palm is facing your hip. Raise your arm forwards, so your fingers are pointing ahead and hold this for 5 seconds.
  2. Raise the arm so your hand is pointing to the ceiling and hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Drop your hand back to your side and rest for 20 seconds.
  4. Repeat this set of movements at least 5 times.
  5. Repeat the whole series of movements with your other arm.

How to become familiar again with daily life while you are in hospital

Remembering everyday thoughts and activities will help to aid your recovery.

  • It is important to have conversations with medical staff and friends and family about the reasons for your stay in hospital.
  • Your medical team will talk with you and explain what your life has been like during your time in hospital.
  • A patient diary will help you to remember life during your critical care journey. It can be filled out by your nurse or any member of the healthcare team.
  • Hospital staff and friends and family can help you regain your memory for things like the day of the week, date and time of day.

Managing fatigue during your recovery

How can I conserve my energy?

When you are ill or recovering from an illness, you are likely to have less energy and feel tired. A simple task, such as putting on your shoes, can feel like hard work. The following advice can help you find ways to conserve your energy as you go about your daily tasks. By making these small changes you’ll have more energy throughout the day.

Top tips for conserving energy while doing tasks

Do not hold your breath while you are doing a task.

Wherever possible, try to avoid pulling, lifting, bending, reaching and twisting.

Push or slide items as much as possible, rather than lifting them.

Bend with your knees (not from your waist).

The 3 Ps principle (pace, plan and prioritise)

You will save energy if you learn to pace, plan and prioritise your daily activities.

Pace yourself so you have enough energy to complete an activity. You will recover faster if you work on a task until you are tired rather than exhausted. (Doing something until you’re exhausted, or going for the big push, means that you will need longer to recover.)

  • Break activities up into smaller tasks and spread them throughout the day.
  • Build rest time into your activities so you can recharge your energy.
  • Plan 30 to 40 minutes of rest breaks between activities.
  • Sit and rest wherever possible.

Plan so you can spread out your normal daily and weekly activities. If certain activities make you breathless or fatigued, plan to do them throughout the day rather than all in one go.

Try changing the time of an activity: instead of having a bath or shower in the morning when you are busy, have one in the evening. Do weekly activities such as gardening, laundry and food shopping on different days, with rest days in between.

  • Collect all the items you need before you start a task.
  • Specially adapted equipment is likely to make tasks easier. If you have an occupational therapist, ask them for further advice and support.
  • You may get more done when family or friends are visiting and can help you.

Prioritise the daily activities which are really necessary. Ask yourself these questions to find out which activities definitely need doing today.

  • What do I need to do today?
  • What do I want to do today?
  • What can be put off until another day?
  • What can I ask someone else to do for me?

Managing low mood and anxiety

If you feel in a low mood or anxious, these tips can help you maintain your spirits.

Take care of yourself

Eat and drink healthily, including lots of fruit, vegetables and water.

Reduce or cut out alcohol. Alcohol can make you feel worse.

Exercise, including walking, will help lift your mood, increase your energy and keep you fit.

Sleep helps, but if you are struggling, try to avoid stimulants (including tea and coffee).

You can also try taking a bath, using blackout curtains or blinds, listening to gentle music or doing some deep breathing exercises (see controlled breathing exercise).

Manage your activities

Identify the triggers that make you feel stressed and look for ways to reduce or manage them.

Identify what you already do that helps, and make it part of your daily routine.

Set realistic goals by breaking each task into small steps. They will seem more manageable that way. Do not try to do too much.

Plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to carry out tasks and activities. It will help you feel more in control.

Ask for support

Talk with family and friends to help them understand how you feel and how they can support you.

Use social media to stay in touch with friends and family. Be careful that this does not ‘feed’ any negative moods you may be experiencing.

Get advice and support by using online resources and joining support groups. Sharing ideas and experiences with other people can help.

Controlled breathing exercise to manage your mood

This controlled breathing exercise can help to stop your mind focusing on stressful thoughts.

Image of controlled breathing
  1. Sit or lie comfortably in a calm, quiet place. (Once you get the hang of controlled breathing, you will be able to do it anywhere and in any position).
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose.
  3. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  4. Exhale through your mouth.
  5. Inhale again, this time counting to four.
  6. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  7. Exhale, counting to six.
  8. Repeat steps 5 to 7, focusing on breathing and counting while letting your body relax away from the things that are making you stressed.
Man relaxing on mountain

Visualisation exercise to manage your mood

Some people have difficulty calming their mind long enough to focus solely on breathing and counting. If you are one of them (or even if you are not) you can try visualisation.

To do this exercise, picture yourself in a relaxing environment. Visualise the place and try to also sense the place. This is an example using a mountaintop:

  • Sit comfortably in a calm, quiet place. You can choose a different location once you have become used to doing this exercise.
  • Imagine you are sitting on the side of a mountain. Take in the scenery around you. The trees, wildlife, greenery, skyline and world below.
  • Imagine the sounds around you. The rustling leaves as the breeze blows against them, the tweeting of birds in the sky, the bubbling of water as a stream flows in the background, the scent of mountain flowers.
  • Feel the sun beaming onto your face and the breeze cooling the sun’s heat.

You can repeat the process using any setting. Remember to incorporate the sights, sounds, feelings, and smells of your chosen location so you can visualise it fully.

More information

SCCM logo
Society of Critical Care Medicine on Post-Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS)
www.sccm.org/MyICUCare/THRIVE/Post-intensive-Care-Syndrome
QR code for Society of Critical Care Medicine on PICS
RCOT logo
Royal College of Occupational Therapists on conserving your energy
www.rcot.co.uk/conserving-energy
QR code for Royal College Occupational Therapists on conserving your energy

Images on Freepick (including by storyset, studio4art)
Exercise content reproduced by kind permission of TrackActive Pro: Exercise Prescription Software with Outcome Measures 

Occupational therapy rehabilitation while you are in hospital - Kingston Hospital Download PDF


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For detailed information on accessibility at Kingston Hospital visit Kingston Hospital AccessAble (https://www.accessable.co.uk/kingston-hospital-nhs-foundation-trust).


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