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Early Mobility in the ICU

Many patients in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), also called the ICU, develop muscle weakness.

This weakness can last for a long time in some patients. It can keep them from returning to their normal lives. If your child is in the ICU, care team members can help them work on their mobility. This can be a safe way to help patients recover faster. It’s called early mobility.

Care team members who might help with early mobility include:

What Is Early Mobility?

Early mobility is part of a rehabilitation plan. It includes planned activity and physical movement for patients in critical care and the ICU. The activities are personalized to meet each child’s needs.

The goal is to get your child moving safely.  Some infants and children may still be on a breathing machine, called a ventilator , during these activities.

How Does Early Mobility Help Patients?

Early mobility plans can help patients recover faster and get back to regular activities. It can improve quality of life before, during, and after care in the ICU.

Early mobility benefits include:

  • Restoring and maintaining physical strength
  • Encouraging social and emotional well-being
  • Improving sleep
  • Maintaining comfort and pain control with fewer medicines
  • Reducing the risk of falls
  • Increasing alertness and improving attention
  • Decreasing delirium (feeling confused and sleepy)

How Does Early Mobility Work?

When your child is admitted to the ICU, they may meet a physical and/or occupational therapist. These care team members will assess what your child may be able to do or need help to do while in the ICU.

For most children, this program starts with moving in bed.

Older children generally start with moving in the bed, then sitting in bed, and progress to standing and walking. For younger children, it may include activities like mat play.

It may include playing or other age-appropriate activities such as:

  • Stretching and range of motion exercises in bed
  • Sitting on the side of the bed with help
  • Standing up
  • Transferring to a wheelchair or chair
  • Walking

How Do Therapists Set Early Mobility Goals?

Your therapist will work with your child to set goals to regain function. These goals will change depending on your child’s progress. Each child’s progress can vary based on their medical needs.

Remember it’s common to see a decrease in skills and abilities while in the ICU. This can happen for many different reasons.

If you have questions or concerns, talk with a member of your child’s care team.

Reviewed: October 2021