Rehabilitating the neurological patient in the ICU: what is important?

Curr Opin Crit Care. 2021 Apr 1;27(2):120-130. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0000000000000804.


Purpose of review: To describe recent literature evaluating the effectiveness of early rehabilitation in neurocritical care patients.

Recent findings: There is a drive for early rehabilitation within the ICU; however, there are unique considerations for the neurocritically ill patient that include hemiplegia, cognitive impairments and impaired conscious state that can complicate rehabilitation. Additionally, neurological complications, such as hemorrhage expansion and cerebral edema can lead to the risk of further neurological damage. It is, therefore, important to consider the effect of exercise and position changes on cerebral hemodynamics in patients with impaired cerebral autoregulation. There is a paucity of evidence to provide recommendations on timing of early rehabilitation postneurological insult. There are also mixed findings on the effectiveness of early mobilization with one large, multicenter RCT demonstrating the potential harm of early and intensive mobilization in stroke patients. Conversely, observational trials have found early rehabilitation to be well tolerated and feasible, reduce hospital length of stay and improve functional outcomes in neurological patients admitted to ICU.

Summary: Further research is warranted to determine the benefits and harm of early rehabilitation in neurological patients. As current evidence is limited, and given recent findings in stroke studies, careful consideration should be taken when prescribing exercises in neurocritically ill patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care
  • Early Ambulation
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Stroke*