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Welcome to Physical Therapy (PT) on the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

This resource offers information about physical therapy in the ICU.

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is the use of movement and/or exercise to improve mobility, coordination, balance, strength, and endurance.

Pediatric physical therapists specialize in developing these activities for children and adolescents. They will work with your child's health care team, caregivers, school, and community to support your child's independence.

What services do physical therapists provide in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)?

The physical therapy staff provides a wide range of diagnostic and rehabilitation services. Each is specific to your child's needs. These services may include:

  • Positioning in and out of bed

  • Assessing needs for splinting and/or bracing

  • Stretching and range of motion

  • Strengthening

  • Bed mobility and sitting edge of bed

  • Transfers in and out of bed

  • Functional mobility training such as walking and stair climbing

  • Balance training

  • Pain management

  • Safety training

  • Family/Caregiver education and training

  • Equipment recommendations and training, including potential use of:

    • Splints

    • Wheelchair

    • Assistive device such as a walker or crutches

  • Discharge Planning

Why is physical therapy important for my child?

When your child is admitted to the ICU, it can be an overwhelming experience. Due to medical needs, your child may be connected to multiple lines and tubes. This can make moving around in bed and getting out of bed seem difficult. Research has shown that early mobility in the ICU is a low risk activity when done correctly. Physical therapists are trained to assist your child with early mobility. Benefits of physical therapy include:

  • Decreased ICU and hospital length of stay

  • Improved strength and endurance at time of discharge

  • Faster return to independent mobility and function

  • Decreased confusion and improved mental status

  • Improved emotional well-being

  • Improved sleep

  • Decreased risk of skin injury

What can I be doing outside of therapy to help my child?

Encourage normal periods of sleep and awake time.

  • Open curtains and turn on lights during the day.

  • Keep it quiet and dark during the night.

Encourage your child to do as much as they can without help. This may include:

  • Repositioning in bed.

  • Feeding themselves.

  • Sitting up unsupported at the edge of the bed or in a chair throughout the day.

If appropriate, your physical therapist may provide you with a personalized exercise program to perform daily.

Reviewed on February 1, 2023

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