Background: Extensive muscle atrophy is a common occurrence in orthopaedics patients who are bedridden or immobilized. The incidence is higher in intensive care unit (ICU) inpatients. There is still controversy about how to use neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) in ICU patients. We aim to compare the effectiveness and safety of NMES to prevent muscle atrophy in intensive care unit (ICU) patients without nerve injury.
Methods: ICU patients without central and peripheral nerve injury were randomized into experimental group Ⅰ (Exp I: active and passive activity training (APAT) + NMES treatment on the gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior muscle), experimental group Ⅱ (Exp II: APAT + NMES treatment on gastrocnemius alone), and control group (Ctl: APAT alone). Changes in the strength of gastrocnemius, the ankle range of motion, and the muscle cross-section area of the lower leg were evaluated before and after the intervention. Also, changes in prothrombin time, lactic acid, and C-reactive protein were monitored during the treatment.
Results: The gastrocnemius muscle strength, ankle joint range of motion, and cross-sectional muscle area of the lower leg in the three groups showed a downward trend, indicating that the overall trend of muscle atrophy in ICU patients was irreversible. The decrease in gastrocnemius muscle strength in Exp I and Exp II was smaller than that in the control group (P <0.05), but there was no difference between Exp I and Exp II. The decrease in active ankle range of motion and cross-sectional area of the lower leg Exp I and Exp II was smaller than that in the control group (P < 0.05), and the decrease in Exp I was smaller than that of Exp II (all P < 0.05). The curative effect in Exp I was better than in Exp II. There were no significant differences in the dynamic changes of prothrombin time, lactic acid, and C-reactive protein during the three groups (P> 0.05).
Conclusion: In addition to early exercise training, NMES should be applied to prevent muscle atrophy for patients without nerve injury in ICU. Also, simultaneous NMES treatment on agonist/antagonist muscle can enhance the effect of preventing muscle atrophy.
Trial registration: This study was prospectively registered in China Clinical Trial Registry (www.chictr.org.cn) on 16/05/2020 as ChiCTR2000032950.