DOI: 10.1097/cce.0000000000001006 ISSN: 2639-8028

Passive Movements Do Not Appear to Prevent or Reduce Joint Stiffness in Medium to Long-Stay ICU Patients: A Randomized, Controlled, Within-Participant Trial

Kathy R. Stiller, Simone Dafoe, Christabel S. Jesudason, Tony M. McDonald, Rocky J. Callisto
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


ICU patients have an increased risk of joint stiffness because of their critical illness and reduced mobility. There is a paucity of evidence evaluating the efficacy of passive movements (PMs). We investigated whether PMs prevent or reduce joint stiffness in ICU patients.


A randomized, controlled, within-participant, assessor-blinded study.


A 48-bed tertiary care adult ICU.


Intubated patients who were expected to be invasively mechanically ventilated for greater than 48 hours with an ICU length of stay greater than or equal to 5 days, and unable to voluntarily move their limbs through full range of motion (ROM).


The ankle and elbow on one side of each participant’s body received PMs (10 min each joint, morning and afternoon, 5 d/wk). The other side acted as the control. The PMs intervention continued for as long as clinically indicated to a maximum of 4 weeks.


The primary outcome was ankle dorsiflexion ROM at cessation of PMs. Plantarflexion, elbow flexion and extension ROM, and participant-reported joint pain and stiffness (verbal analog scale [VAS]) were also measured. Outcomes were recorded at baseline and cessation of PMs. For participants whose PMs intervention ceased early due to recovery, additional post-early-cessation of PMs review measurements were undertaken as near as possible to 4 weeks.


We analyzed data from 25 participants with a median (interquartile range) ICU stay of 15.6 days (11.3–25.4). The mean (95% CI) between-side difference for dorsiflexion ROM (with knee extension) at cessation of PMs was 0.4 degrees (–4.4 to 5.2; p = 0.882), favoring the intervention side, indicating there was not a clinically meaningful effect of 5 degrees. No statistically significant differences were found between the intervention and control sides for any ROM or VAS data.


PMs, as provided to this sample of medium to long-stay ICU patients, did not prevent or reduce joint stiffness.

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