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Critical care physiotherapy: Early mobilisation

CPD Hours



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Critical care and emergency nursing


Physiotherapy has been a long-standing component of critical care medicine in the developed world.

Traditionally, physiotherapy in the intensive care unit (ICU) was limited to respiratory management, which varied between practitioners and hospitals, with minimal supporting evidence to guide practice. Substantial research supports the positive impact of critical care physiotherapy on patient outcomes. The most dramatic shift has occurred as a result of a change in focus from respiratory interventions to early progressive mobilisation, in order to improve both short- and long-term patient outcomes.

Early rehabilitation in intensive care has been demonstrated to:

  • Reduce length of ventilation
  • Decrease ICU and hospital length of stay
  • Improve quality of life and functional status for survivors of critical illness

The role of the physiotherapist in critical care teams continues to evolve as research progresses and is translated into practice. However, limitations in the ability of physiotherapists to prescribe and implement interventions in the critical care population due to cultural, procedural, and/or safety concerns must be acknowledged.

This module provides nurses with an understanding of the role of physiotherapy in supporting optimal outcomes for critical care patients and the role of physiotherapists as members of the multidisciplinary care team.

Learning Objective

At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • Identify the impact of an ICU stay on the patient’s functional ability and quality of life.
  • Highlight the expanding role of physiotherapy in the ICU.
  • Review and expand current knowledge of rehabilitation techniques specific to the critical care population.
  • Evaluate the outcomes of highlighted interventions and identify those beneficial to practice.
  • Identify the limitations of implementing early rehabilitation in some patients.

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