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Exercise helps speed recovery for ICU patients

September 21, 2009 | 12:01 pm

The wasting away of muscle tissue can be a serious problem for people who are hospitalized and confined to bed due to a critical illness. That lack of mobility and strength can ultimately affect recovery.

But by putting patients through neuromuscular electrical stimulation and having them do simple exercises (some with the aid of devices), muscles can be shored up, speeding recuperation and getting people back on their feet. In a report in the journal Critical Care Medicine published online today, researchers examined studies, which charted patients' increased muscle strength during recuperation.

A team at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore has developed a special walker that helps severely ill patients move around more easily, and with fewer helpers. The Moving Our Patients for Very Early Rehabilitation (or MOVER) Aid was created with the help of biomedical engineering students at Johns Hopkins University. It has an equipment tower and a custom-designed walker; the walker comes with a built-in emergency seat so a staff member doesn't have to walk behind the patient with a wheelchair. The tower fits medical supplies and equipment into one neat unit that also allows for easy viewing of display screens. According to the study, "Through this technological aid, the number of staff required to ambulate a mechanically ventilated patient can be reduced from four to two."

The report also points out that cycle ergometers, cycling devices that patients can use while lying in bed, show promise for safely preserving leg muscles while bed-ridden. The machines have also been used on critically ill people who are sedated or immobile. The researchers also point to several studies that show the benefits of electrical stimulation, used often by physical therapists to preserve muscle strength.

"ICU-related muscle weakness is the number one factor in prolonging a patient's recovery and delaying their return to a normal life, including work and recreational activities," said lead author Dr. Dale Needham, a critical care specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in a news release. "Our ICU patients are telling us that they want to be awake and moving," he added. "Gone are the days when we should only think of critically ill patients on complete bed rest."

-- Jeannine Stein