Physiotherapy in intensive care: an updated systematic review

Chest. 2013 Sep;144(3):825-847. doi: 10.1378/chest.12-2930.


Background: Although physiotherapy is frequently provided to patients in the ICU, its role has been questioned. The purpose of this systematic literature review, an update of one published in 2000, was to examine the evidence concerning the effectiveness of physiotherapy for adult, intubated patients who are mechanically ventilated in the ICU.

Methods: The main literature search was undertaken on PubMed, with secondary searches of MEDLINE, CINAHL, Embase, the Cochrane Library, and the Physiotherapy Evidence Database. Only papers published from 1999 were included. No limitations were placed on study design, intervention type, or outcomes of clinical studies; nonsystematic reviews were excluded. Items were checked for relevance and data extracted from included studies. Marked heterogeneity of design precluded statistical pooling of results and led to a descriptive review.

Results: Fifty-five clinical and 30 nonclinical studies were reviewed. The evidence from randomized controlled trials evaluating the effectiveness of routine multimodality respiratory physiotherapy is conflicting. Physiotherapy that comprises early progressive mobilization has been shown to be feasible and safe, with data from randomized controlled trials demonstrating that it can improve function and shorten ICU and hospital length of stay.

Conclusions: Available new evidence, published since 1999, suggests that physiotherapy intervention that comprises early progressive mobilization is beneficial for adult patients in the ICU in terms of its positive effect on functional ability and its potential to reduce ICU and hospital length of stay. These new findings suggest that early progressive mobilization should be implemented as a matter of priority in all adult ICUs and an area of clinical focus for ICU physiotherapists.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / statistics & numerical data*