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Small Steps May Speed Recovery in ICU Patients

Mild exercise beats bed rest, preliminary study finds

TUESDAY, Sept. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Patients in intensive care units often have little chance to move around, putting them at risk of muscle wasting and threatening their prospects of recovery. But new research now suggests that mild physical-therapy exercises could boost their chances of getting better.

"Our ICU patients are telling us that they want to be awake and moving. Gone are the days when we should only think of critically ill patients on complete bed rest," said Dr. Dale Needham, a physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine and senior researcher of a report published online Sept. 21 in the journal Critical Care Medicine, in a news release from Johns Hopkins.

Needham previously published research that said most patients suffer from extended fatigue and extensive recovery after undergoing bed rest in the ICU.

The new report lists muscle-strengthening exercises that patients can attempt despite being critically ill. They include walking, undergoing electrical stimulation to the legs, and cycling in bed using a special stationary device.

Needham's team, including two physical therapists, have tested the exercises on more than 400 patients at the Johns Hopkins ICU.

The results of the research are preliminary and need to be confirmed over longer periods of time. But the study authors found that patients who exercised appear to be leaving the hospital sooner, stronger and happier, according to the news release.

The researchers will continue their work by testing the long-term effects of the exercises on patients at a number of hospitals.

More information

Learn more about physical therapy from the American Physical Therapy Association.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, Sept. 21, 2009

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