Does Standard Physical Therapy Increase Quadriceps Strength in Chronically Ventilated Patients? A Pilot Study∗

Gerald S. Supinski, Emily N. Valentine, Paul F. Netzel, Elizabeth A. Schroder, Lin Wang, Leigh Ann Callahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objectives: Physical therapy is standard care for mechanically ventilated patients, but there is no evidence, using nonvolitional, objective measurements, that physical therapy increases muscle strength in this population. The present study tested the hypothesis that 2 weeks of standard, conventional physical therapy provided at a ventilator weaning facility would increase quadriceps strength in mechanically ventilated patients. Design: Prospective observational study. Setting: Ventilator weaning unit. Patients: Patients who were transferred from an acute care hospital because of failure to wean from mechanical ventilation and who were receiving physical therapy as prescribed by facility staff. Interventions: None. Measurements and Main Results: We employed a novel, nonvolitional objective technique, quadriceps twitch force generation in response to femoral nerve magnetic stimulation, to assess leg strength before and after 2 weeks of conventional physical therapy. The duration and specific exercises provided to patients were also recorded. In a subset of patients, we measured muscle activation intensity using wireless electromyogram recordings. Indices of respiratory function (maximum inspiratory pressure generation and the rapid shallow breathing index) were also assessed. Patients' responses to 2 weeks of physical therapy were poor; on average, quadriceps twitch fell by-1.02 ± 0.71 Newtons. Neither physical therapy duration nor specific forms of exercise were identified to positively impact quadriceps twitch. Electromyogram recordings indicated that during training, muscle activation was poor. Consequently, therapists spent substantial time performing exercises that elicited little muscle activation. Physical therapy did not improve respiratory function. Conclusions: Standard physical therapy delivered in a ventilator weaning facility failed to improve quadriceps leg strength in a majority of mechanically ventilated patients. The fact that mechanically ventilated patients fail to achieve high levels of muscle activation during physical therapy provides a potential explanation as to why physical therapy may often be ineffective. We speculate that use of novel methods which increase muscle activation during exercise may improve responses of mechanically ventilated patients to physical therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1595-1603
Number of pages9
JournalCritical Care Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. All rights reserved.


  • critical illness myopathy
  • electromyograms
  • muscle activation during exercise
  • physical therapy during mechanical ventilation
  • quadriceps twitch force generation
  • quadriceps weakness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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