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Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2017 May;14(5):766-777. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201611-843SR.

Safety of Patient Mobilization and Rehabilitation in the Intensive Care Unit. Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis.

Author information

1 Nursing Research, University Hospital of Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel, Germany.
2 Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Thammasat University, PathumThani, Thailand.
3 Telehealth Program, Northwell Health, New York, New York.
4 Institute of Nursing Science and Practice, Paracelsus Medical University, Salzburg, Austria.
5 Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.
6 Nursing Development, University Hospital Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria; and.
7 Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.



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.


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.


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.


Number of patients, mobilization/rehabilitation sessions, potential safety events, and events with negative consequences (e.g., requiring intervention or additional therapy).


Heterogeneity was assessed by I2 statistics, 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.


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.


adverse effects; early ambulation; exercise; patient safety

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