Feasibility of physical and occupational therapy beginning from initiation of mechanical ventilation

Crit Care Med. 2010 Nov;38(11):2089-94. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e3181f270c3.


Objective: Physical and occupational therapy are possible immediately after intubation in mechanically ventilated medical intensive care unit patients. The objective of this study was to describe a protocol of daily sedative interruption and early physical and occupational therapy and to specify details of intensive care unit-based therapy, including neurocognitive state, potential barriers, and adverse events related to this intervention.

Design and patients: Detailed descriptive study of the intervention arm of a trial of mechanically ventilated patients receiving early physical and occupational therapy.

Setting: Two tertiary care academic medical centers participating in a randomized controlled trial.

Intervention: Patients underwent daily sedative interruption followed by physical and occupational therapy every hospital day until achieving independent functional status. Therapy began with active range of motion and progressed to activities of daily living, sitting, standing, and walking as tolerated.

Measurements and main results: Forty-nine mechanically ventilated patients received early physical and occupational therapy occurring a median of 1.5 days (range, 1.0-2.1 days) after intubation. Therapy was provided on 90% of MICU days during mechanical ventilation. While endotracheally intubated, subjects sat at the edge of the bed in 69% of all physical and occupational therapy sessions, transferred from bed to chair in 33%, stood in 33%, and ambulated during 15% (n = 26 of 168) of all physical and occupational therapy sessions (median distance of 15 feet; range, 15-20 feet). At least one potential barrier to mobilization during mechanical ventilation (acute lung injury, vasoactive medication administration, delirium, renal replacement therapy, or body mass index ≥ 30 kg/m) was present in 89% of patient encounters. Therapy was interrupted prematurely in 4% of all sessions, most commonly for patient-ventilator asynchrony and agitation.

Conclusion: Early physical and occupational therapy is feasible from the onset of mechanical ventilation despite high illness acuity and presence of life support devices. Adverse events are uncommon, even in this high-risk group.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cognition
  • Conscious Sedation
  • Critical Care / methods
  • Critical Illness / rehabilitation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Therapy / methods*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Time Factors
  • Wakefulness