A Randomized Trial of an Intensive Physical Therapy Program for Patients with Acute Respiratory Failure

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 May 15;193(10):1101-10. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201505-1039OC.


Rationale: Early physical therapy (PT) interventions may benefit patients with acute respiratory failure by preventing or attenuating neuromuscular weakness. However, the optimal dosage of these interventions is currently unknown.

Objectives: To determine whether an intensive PT program significantly improves long-term physical functional performance compared with a standard-of-care PT program.

Methods: Patients who required mechanical ventilation for at least 4 days were eligible. Enrolled patients were randomized to receive PT for up to 4 weeks delivered in an intensive or standard-of-care manner. Physical functional performance was assessed at 1, 3, and 6 months in survivors who were not currently in an acute or long-term care facility. The primary outcome was the Continuous Scale Physical Functional Performance Test short form (CS-PFP-10) score at 1 month.

Measurements and main results: A total of 120 patients were enrolled from five hospitals. Patients in the intensive PT group received 12.4 ± 6.5 sessions for a total of 408 ± 261 minutes compared with only 6.1 ± 3.8 sessions for 86 ± 63 minutes in the standard-of-care group (P < 0.001 for both analyses). Physical function assessments were available for 86% of patients at 1 month, for 76% at 3 months, and for 60% at 6 months. In both groups, physical function was reduced yet significantly improved over time between 1, 3, and 6 months. When we compared the two interventions, we found no differences in the total CS-PFP-10 scores at all three time points (P = 0.73, 0.29, and 0.43, respectively) or in the total CS-PFP-10 score trajectory (P = 0.71).

Conclusions: An intensive PT program did not improve long-term physical functional performance compared with a standard-of-care program. Clinical trial registered with www.clinicaltrials.gov (NCT01058421).

Keywords: acute respiratory failure; critical care; mechanical ventilation; physical therapy.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / rehabilitation*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01058421