Rehabilitation of adult patients on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation: A scoping review

Aust Crit Care. 2022 Sep;35(5):575-582. doi: 10.1016/j.aucc.2021.08.009. Epub 2021 Oct 26.


Objectives: The objective of this study was to conduct a scoping review to comprehensively map the breadth of literature related to the rehabilitation of adult patients whilst on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and identify gaps and areas for future research.

Review method used: This review was conducted using recommended frameworks for methods and reporting including the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews.

Date sources: We searched seven databases from inception to June 2021 and included all study designs and grey literature.

Review methods: Eligibility screening was completed by two independent reviewers according to inclusion and exclusion criteria, with any disagreement resolved by consensus or with consultation with a third reviewer. Two independent reviewers extracted data related to intervention characteristics, patient outcomes, feasibility, safety, hospital outcomes, and mortality using a custom-designed piloted form.

Results: Of 8507 records, 185 original studies met inclusion criteria, with the majority being small retrospective studies. Rehabilitation was more commonly reported in patients on veno-venous rather than veno-arterial ECMO. Ambulation was the most commonly reported intervention (51% of studies). Critical gaps were identified including incomplete reporting of the intervention along with heterogeneity in the type and timing of outcome measures. Less than 50% of patients met eligibility criteria to participate, but screening for eligibility was infrequently reported (9% of studies). Delivery of rehabilitation during ECMO may be facilitated by an expert multidisciplinary team, along with a strategy that targets low sedation levels and an upper body cannulation approach.

Conclusions: Rehabilitation during ECMO is an emerging area of research and mostly consisted of small retrospective single-centre studies. Future research requires more robust methodological designs that include comprehensive screening of potential candidates with reporting of eligibility, more detailed descriptions of the rehabilitation interventions, inclusion of a core outcome set with defined measurement instruments, and consistent timing of outcome measurement.

Keywords: Exercise; Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation; Intensive care units; Physical therapy modalities; Rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation* / methods
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation* / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies