Safety of patient mobilization and rehabilitation in the intensive care unit: Systematic review with meta-analysis

Peter Nydahl, Thiti Sricharoenchai, Saurabh Chandra, Firuzan Sari Kundt, Minxuan Huang, Magdalena Fischill, Dale M. Needham

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Background: Early mobilization and rehabilitation of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) may improve physical function, and reduce the duration of delirium, mechanical ventilation, and ICU length of stay. However, safety concerns are an important barrier to widespread implementation. Objectives: To synthesize safety data regarding patient mobilization and rehabilitation in the ICU, including falls, removal of endotracheal tubes, removal or dysfunction of intravascular catheters, removal of other catheters/tubes, cardiac arrest, hemodynamic changes, and desaturation. Data Sources: Systematic literature review, including searches of five databases. Eligible studies evaluated patients who received mobilization-related interventions in the ICU. Exclusion criteria included: (1) case series with fewer than 10 patients; (2) majority of patients under 18 years of age; and (3) data not reported to permit calculation of incidence of safety events. Data Extraction: Number of patients, mobilization/rehabilitation sessions, potential safety events, and events with negative consequences (e.g., requiring intervention or additional therapy). Synthesis: Heterogeneity was assessed by I2statistics, and bias assessed by the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale and Cochrane risk of bias assessment. The literature search identified 20,660 titles. There were 48 eligible publications evaluating 7,546 patients, with 583 potential safety events occurring in 22,351 mobilization/rehabilitation sessions. There was a total of 583 (2.6%) potential safety events with heterogeneity in the definitions for these events. For the safety event types that could be meta-analyzed, pooled incidences per 1,000 mobilization/rehabilitation sessions (95% confidence interval), were: hemodynamic changes, 3.8 (1.3-11.4), and desaturation, 1.9 (0.9-4.3). A total of 24 studies of 3,404 patients reported on any consequences of potential safety events (e.g., needing to increase dose of vasopressor due to mobility-related hypotension), with a frequency of 0.6% in 14,398 mobilization/rehabilitation sessions. Conclusions: Patient mobilization and physical rehabilitation in the ICU appears safe, with a low incidence of potential safety events, and only rare events having any consequences for patient management Heterogeneity in the definition of safety events across studies emphasizes the importance of implementing existing consensus-based definitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-777
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017


  • Adverse effects
  • Early ambulation
  • Exercise
  • Patient safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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