Passive Movements Do not Appear to Prevent or Reduce Joint Stiffness in Medium to Long-Stay ICU Patients: A Randomized, Controlled, Within-Participant Trial

Crit Care Explor. 2023 Nov 29;5(12):e1006. doi: 10.1097/CCE.0000000000001006. eCollection 2023 Dec.


Objectives: ICU patients have an increased risk of joint stiffness because of their critical illness and reduced mobility. There is a paucity of evidence evaluating the efficacy of passive movements (PMs). We investigated whether PMs prevent or reduce joint stiffness in ICU patients.

Design: A randomized, controlled, within-participant, assessor-blinded study.

Setting: A 48-bed tertiary care adult ICU.

Patients: Intubated patients who were expected to be invasively mechanically ventilated for greater than 48 hours with an ICU length of stay greater than or equal to 5 days, and unable to voluntarily move their limbs through full range of motion (ROM).

Interventions: The ankle and elbow on one side of each participant's body received PMs (10 min each joint, morning and afternoon, 5 d/wk). The other side acted as the control. The PMs intervention continued for as long as clinically indicated to a maximum of 4 weeks.

Measurements: The primary outcome was ankle dorsiflexion ROM at cessation of PMs. Plantarflexion, elbow flexion and extension ROM, and participant-reported joint pain and stiffness (verbal analog scale [VAS]) were also measured. Outcomes were recorded at baseline and cessation of PMs. For participants whose PMs intervention ceased early due to recovery, additional post-early-cessation of PMs review measurements were undertaken as near as possible to 4 weeks.

Main results: We analyzed data from 25 participants with a median (interquartile range) ICU stay of 15.6 days (11.3-25.4). The mean (95% CI) between-side difference for dorsiflexion ROM (with knee extension) at cessation of PMs was 0.4 degrees (-4.4 to 5.2; p = 0.882), favoring the intervention side, indicating there was not a clinically meaningful effect of 5 degrees. No statistically significant differences were found between the intervention and control sides for any ROM or VAS data.

Conclusions: PMs, as provided to this sample of medium to long-stay ICU patients, did not prevent or reduce joint stiffness.

Keywords: articular; contracture; critical care; exercise therapy; physical therapy modalities; range of motion.