Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) has been investigated as a preventative measure for intensive care unit-acquired weakness. Trial results remain contradictory and therefore inconclusive. As it has been shown that NMES does not necessarily lead to a contractile response, our aim was to characterise the response of critically ill patients to NMES and investigate potential outcome benefits of an adequate contractile response.
This is a sub-analysis of a randomised controlled trial investigating early muscle activating measures together with protocol-based physiotherapy in patients with a SOFA score ≥ 9 within the first 72 h after admission. Included patients received protocol-based physiotherapy twice daily for 20 min and NMES once daily for 20 min, bilaterally on eight muscle groups. Electrical current was increased up to 70 mA or until a contraction was detected visually or on palpation. Muscle strength was measured by a blinded assessor at the first adequate awakening and ICU discharge.
One thousand eight hundred twenty-four neuromuscular electrical stimulations in 21 patients starting on day 3.0 (2.0/6.0) after ICU admission were included in this sub-analysis. Contractile response decreased from 64.4% on day 1 to 25.0% on day 7 with a significantly lower response rate in the lower extremities and proximal muscle groups. The electrical current required to elicit a contraction did not change over time (day 1, 50.2 [31.3/58.8] mA; day 7, 45.3 [38.0/57.5] mA). The electrical current necessary for a contractile response was higher in the lower extremities. At the first awakening, patients presented with significant weakness (3.2 [2.5/3.8] MRC score). When dividing the cohort into responders and non-responders (> 50% vs. ≤ 50% contractile response), we observed a significantly higher SOFA score in non-responders. The electrical current necessary for a muscle contraction in responders was significantly lower (38.0 [32.8/42.9] vs. 54.7 [51.3/56.0] mA, p < 0.001). Muscle strength showed higher values in the upper extremities of responders at ICU discharge (4.4 [4.1/4.6] vs. 3.3 [2.8/3.8] MRC score, p = 0.036).
Patients show a differential contractile response to NMES, which appears to be dependent on the severity of illness and also relevant for potential outcome benefits.
ISRCTN ISRCTN19392591 , registered 17 February 2011