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To the Editor: The findings of the study by Martin and colleagues (1) in the December 2008 issue—that use of restrictive interventions can be reduced through a collaborative problem-solving model—are both interesting and exciting. Steps taken to decrease the use of such interventions are to be welcomed and should be reinforced on an international scale. It is unlikely, however, that such interventions will be completely eradicated from psychiatric services. Therefore, debate and discussion on ways to reduce the risks of such interventions are important.
One reason for reducing the use of restrictive interventions is that the evidence base for their safety and effectiveness is distinctly lacking (1). In addition, individuals who apply the interventions and those to whom they are applied may experience many adverse psychological consequences (2). Patients may view the interventions as unwarranted and as punishment for their actions (2). They may also report that such interventions cause pain, which all care providers should seek to avoid. Staff may experience anger and anxiety, and in some cases staff may reawaken memories of their own untoward experiences (2).
More recently, researchers have explored the physical consequences that such interventions may have for both parties. Clearly, the most serious physical consequence is death, and Martin and colleagues describe such cases in the United States. Another obvious consequence is injury to both staff and patients. Research on this important topic is limited, but one U.K. study of a medium-secure unit published in 2003 found that nearly one in five incidents of physical restraint resulted in injury to staff or patients (3). Two more recent studies found that the prevalence of such injuries was considerably lower (4,5), even though the patients in these studies, older adults and persons with acquired brain injury, respectively, typically have a far more complex physical presentation than seen on a general adult medium-secure ward.
These studies found that employing a physical therapist who screened all patients for physical ailments that would increase the likelihood of injury or pain was central to reducing patients' injuries. If any ailments or restrictions on activity were identified, the physical therapist worked with the hospital's physical restraint tutor on adopting pain-free techniques. Restrictive measures must be used with caution when they involve children and adolescents because in most cases their musculoskeletal systems are immature, which elevates the risk of injury. Individuals who apply such interventions in populations at risk of pain and injury might consider involving a physical therapist to reduce risk.
In summary, all staff should seek to reduce the use of restrictive interventions for the good of both patients and staff. Employing a physical therapist to screen patients is one way to reduce the risk of pain and injury. My U.S. colleagues might consider taking this approach.
Mr. Stubbs is clinical specialist and lead physiotherapist at St. Andrews Healthcare, Northampton, United Kingdom.
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