Physiotherapy is an integral part of the management of patients in respiratory intensive care units (RICUs). The most important aim in this area is to enhance the overall patient's functional capacity and to restore his/her respiratory and physical independence, thus decreasing the risks of bed rest associated complications. This article is a review of evidence-based effectiveness of weaning practices and physiotherapy treatment for patients with respiratory insufficiency in a RICU. Literature searches were performed using general and specialty databases with appropriate keywords. The evidence for applying a weaning process and physiotherapy techniques in these patients has been described according to their individual rationale and efficacy. The growing number of patients treated in RICUs all over the world makes this non pharmacological approach both welcome and interesting. However, to date, there are only strong recommendations concerning the evidence-based strategies to speed weaning. Early physiotherapy may be effective in ICU: however, most techniques (postures, limb exercise and percussion/vibration in particular) need to be further studied in a large population. Evidence supporting physiotherapy intervention is limited as there are no studies examining the specific effects of interventions on long-term outcome.