Objective: To test the hypothesis that chest physiotherapy in extremely premature infants is associated with abnormal neurological outcomes.
Methods: All babies born during the years 1992-1994 at gestations of 24-29 weeks who survived to 28 days were included in the study cohort (n=213). Chest physiotherapy was provided by trained physiotherapists for babies with secretions causing obstruction to the airway or for babies with evidence of collapse and/or consolidation. The relationship between chest physiotherapy and cystic brain lesions at discharge, or cerebral palsy (CP) and developmental quotient (DQ) at 1 year corrected age, were then explored.
Results: Ninety-seven babies (45% of the cohort) received physiotherapy. No baby had a brain lesion similar to that described as encephaloclastic porencephaly. Babies receiving physiotherapy had significantly lower birthweights and gestational ages. Of the 13 babies found to have either periventricular leucomalacia or porencephalic cysts, seven (7%) were in the physiotherapy group, and six (5%) were in the nonphysiotherapy group. Of the babies surviving to 1 year corrected age, 189 (92%) had multidisciplinary follow-up. Eleven (13%) of the babies who received physiotherapy had suspected CP, and 14 (13%) of those not receiving physiotherapy had CP. The DQ of those who received physiotherapy was 96.0+/-16.6, and 101.6+/-16.6 for those who did not. Following adjustment for gestational age and other unequal risk factors using logistic regression, none of the above outcomes was significantly associated with the number of physiotherapy treatments.
Conclusion: We could find no evidence that chest physiotherapy, as given in our unit, was associated with abnormal neurological outcomes in extremely preterm infants.