A physiotherapist is part of the multidisciplinary team in most intensive care units in Australia. Physiotherapists are primary contact practitioners and use a comprehensive multisystem assessment that includes the respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, and musculoskeletal systems to formulate individualized treatment plans. The traditional focus of treatment has been the respiratory management of both intubated and spontaneously breathing patients. However, the emerging evidence of the longstanding physical impairment suffered by survivors of intensive care has resulted in physiotherapists re-evaluating treatment priorities to include exercise rehabilitation as a part of standard clinical practice. The goals of respiratory physiotherapy management are to promote secretion clearance, maintain or recruit lung volume, optimize oxygenation, and prevent respiratory complications in both the intubated and spontaneously breathing patient. In the intubated patient, physiotherapists commonly employ manual and ventilator hyperinflation and positioning as treatment techniques whilst in the spontaneously breathing patients there is an emphasis on mobilization. Physiotherapists predominantly use functional activities for the rehabilitation of the critically ill patient in intensive care. While variability exists between states and centers, Australian physiotherapists actively treat critically ill patients targeting interventions based upon research evidence and individualized assessment. A trend toward more emphasis on exercise rehabilitation over respiratory management is evident.
Keywords: intensive care; physiotherapy.