Physical Therapy in the ICU
You might ask yourself what a physical therapist does in the ICU. That is a great question. The role of a P.T. in the ICU will vary from facility to facility. Some facilities have a dedicated P.T. who spends the day mobilizing patients, doing progressive resistance exercises and acting as the expert for positioning and prevention of contractions. Other facilities order a P.T.consult only when a patient is extubated and active.
There are some important things that a P.T. needs to be knowledgeable about when working in the ICU. I would recommend brushing up on the following; cardiopulmonary physiology, ventilator and respiratory equipment, medications commonly used in the ICU, exclusion criteria for mobility, clinical implications of lab values, and monitoring systems. It is also beneficial to take 2-4 hours to shadow an ICU nurse and a respiratory therapist if your facility allows for this.
There are many P.T. activities that can be done while the patient is sitting edge of bed such as;PREs for lower extremities, therapeutic exercises, deep breathing, ADLs, trunk control and seated balance activities.
The ultimate goal of ICU P.T. is to get patients mobile which will inevitably help them wean off of a ventilator, become more independent and eventually transfer out of the ICU.
As a P.T. who has worked in the ICU I can tell you that it is rewarding, exciting and important. The evidence for early mobility is strong and it is “Best Practice” for ICU patients. I encourage you to get trained, get involved and get your patients moving.