Early mobilization in critically ill children: a survey of Canadian practice

Crit Care Med. 2013 Jul;41(7):1745-53. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e318287f592.


Objectives: While early mobilization is safe and enhances functional recovery in critically ill adults, rehabilitation practices in critically ill children are not well characterized. The objective of this study was to evaluate the knowledge, perceptions, and stated practices of early mobilization among physicians and physiotherapists practicing in Canadian pediatric critical care units.

Design and measurements: A self-administered survey was mailed to 102 physicians and 35 physiotherapists. Survey domains included barriers to early mobilization, the timing, nature and thresholds for rehabilitation, and staffing workload. We assessed for associations using chi-square tests.

Main results: The overall response rate was 64.2% (88 of 137), representing 59.8% (61 of 102) physicians and 77.1% (27 of 35) physiotherapists, respectively. Key institutional barriers to early mobilization included a lack of practice guidelines (75.4% physician, 48.1% physiotherapist respondents; p = 0.01) and the need for physician orders prior to initiating physiotherapy (26.2% physician vs 55.6% physiotherapist, p = 0.008). Only 3.4% of respondents reported having local guidelines for early mobilization. Conflicting perceptions regarding the clinical thresholds for early mobilization and the safety of early mobilization were the most commonly reported patient-level barriers. Increasing illness severity was associated with decreased clinician comfort with early mobilization. Respiratory physiotherapy and passive range of motion were the most frequently applied rehabilitation interventions (77.8%), while pregait physiotherapy and ambulation were only sometimes or infrequently (70.4%) used. The type and extent of physiotherapy varied depending on the time of day and week.

Conclusions: There are numerous perceived institutional, patient- and provider-level barriers to early mobilization in Canadian pediatric critical care units, and diverse opinions on the appropriateness of early mobilization. Limited awareness of existing literature and the lack of practice guidelines on early mobilization are not surprising in light of the paucity of pediatric-specific evidence. These results strongly support the need for further research, evaluating the feasibility, safety, and efficacy of early mobilization in critically ill children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Critical Illness / rehabilitation*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Early Ambulation*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric*
  • Perception*
  • Physical Therapists / psychology
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Time Factors