Physical Therapy for Ventilator Weaning Rehabilitation

A study was published that examined the effect of physical therapy on ventilator weaning rehabilitation – is it really a necessary intervention? The researchers found that it’s extremely important for long term recovery.

What is ventilator weaning rehabilitation?

A patient on a ventilator has a serious risk of fatality; it means that his breathing is compromised. If a patient has survived needing a ventilator, it’s wonderful news. That means that he can get weaned off and get back to breathing on his own. However, ventilator weaning rehab is not always so simple, and may require extra therapy. In an ideal world, the patient starts breathing on his own and the doctors remove the ventilator. Done. However, there can be many missteps along what may eventually become a journey. 

Around 20% of patients who get weaned from a ventilator have difficulties, translating into 1 in 5 people, which means that it takes more than 7 days to fully independently breathe after an initial independent breath. While in the best of situations the patient starts breathing on his own and then continues, in these 20% of cases, after the first spontaneous breath he needs the ventilator back on. There are a number of reasons why this might happen, from cardiac issues to genetic predispositions. A long term on the ventilator weakens the body and makes it potentially harder for the patient to fully breathe on his own. Further time on the ventilator exacerbates the problems, so it becomes important to help the patient work through the issues that are preventing spontaneous breathing as soon as possible. Physical therapy is an important part of the ventilator weaning rehabilitation process.

How the study worked

The researchers in this study wanted to evaluate how much physical therapy played a role in ventilator weaning rehabilitation. They took a small group, only 34 patients, and split them into 2 groups – there were 18 people in the rehab group and 16 in the control group. 

The rehab group had physical therapy for 6 weeks and then maintenance for another 6 weeks. They were followed up with at the beginning of the therapy course, after each 6 week program mark, again at the 6 moth mark, and again at the 12 month mark. The researchers used a functional independence measurement to track progress. 

The results

The rehab group scored significantly higher for their marks than the control group after 6 months. For some of the markers they simply outscored them, and for others, they had complete independence according to their measures, while the control group did not. The survival rate at 1 year was also extremely significant – 70% for the rehab group, while only 25% for the control group.

There was no significant difference between the two groups for patients who were discharged and ventilator free.

The authors of the study conclude that physical therapy is an important element of ventilator weaning rehabilitation and it contributes significantly to better outcomes for patients.

At Sinai Post Acute Care Center for Rehabilitation in Newark, New Jersey, we have excellent ventilator weaning rehabilitation services for patients who need help. Our experienced and professional staff offer warm and dedicated services for patients to get the treatment and therapies they need to breathe on their own and resume normal functioning.