Patient-Level Barriers and Facilitators to Early Mobilization and the Relationship With Physical Disability Post-Intensive Care: Part 2 of an Integrative Review Through the Lens of the World Health Organization International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health

Dimens Crit Care Nurs. 2021 May-Jun;40(3):164-173. doi: 10.1097/DCC.0000000000000470.


Background: Early mobilization (EM) is associated with reduced physical disability post-intensive care (PD PIC). Yet, contextual factors facilitate or impede delivery of EM in the intensive care unit (ICU). Only 45% of ICUs in the United States routinely practice EM despite its recognized benefits.

Objectives: To analyze the evidence on the relationship between critical care EM, PD PIC, and personal (patient-level) factors, using the theoretical lens of the World Health Organization's International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF).

Method: The Whittemore and Knafl methodology for integrative reviews and PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) reporting guidelines were followed. Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods studies (n = 38) that evaluated EM and 1 or more domains of the World Health Organization ICF were included. Quality was appraised using the Mixed-Methods Appraisal Tool. Study characteristics were evaluated for common themes and relationships. The ICF domains and subdomains pertaining to each study were synthesized.

Results: Early mobilization delivery was influenced by personal factors. Deeper sedation level, the presence of delirium, higher patient acuity, the presence of medical devices, and patient weight were identified barriers to EM delivery. Patient engagement in EM was associated with improved delivery. Patients who enjoyed rehabilitation were more likely to demonstrate improvement in functional impairment than those who did not enjoy rehabilitation.

Discussion: Early mobilization is associated with reduced PD PIC, yet numerous contextual factors affect the delivery of EM in the ICU. Further study of patient-level factors and EM must explore the relationship between patient engagement, baseline demographics, and functional status at ICU admission, patient-level considerations for decisions to mobilize, and EM in the ICU. This research is critical to improving the delivery of EM in the ICU and reducing PD PIC.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Early Ambulation*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • World Health Organization