Awake extracorporeal life support and physiotherapy in adult patients: A systematic review of the literature

M. Cucchi, S. Mariani, M.E. De Piero, J.M. Ravaux, M.J. Kawczynski, M. Di Mauro, E. Shkurka, A. Hoskote, R. Lorusso*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Objective The Awake Extracorporeal Life Support (ECLS) practice combined with physiotherapy is increasing. However, available evidence for this approach is limited, with unclear indications on timing, management, and protocols. This review summarizes available literature regarding Awake ECLS and physiotherapy application rates, practices, and outcomes in adults, providing indications for future investigations. Methods Four databases were screened from inception to February 2021, for studies reporting adult Awake ECLS with/without physiotherapy. Primary outcome was hospital discharge survival, followed by Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) duration, extubation, Intensive Care Unit stay. Results Twenty-nine observational studies and one randomized study were selected, including 1,157 patients (males n = 611/691, 88.4%) undergoing Awake ECLS. Support type was reported in 1,089 patients: Veno-Arterial ECMO (V-A = 39.6%), Veno-Venous ECMO (V-V = 56.8%), other ECLS (3.6%). Exclusive upper body cannulation and femoral cannulation were applied in 31% versus 69% reported cases (n = 931). Extubation was successful in 63.5% (n = 522/822) patients during ECLS. Physiotherapy details were given for 676 patients: exercises confined in bed for 47.9% (n = 324) patients, mobilization until standing in 9.3% (n = 63) cases, ambulation performed in 42.7% (n = 289) patients. Femoral cannulation, extubation and V-A ECMO were mostly correlated to complications. Hospital discharge survival observed in 70.8% (n = 789/1114). Conclusion Awake ECLS strategy associated with physiotherapy is performed regardless of cannulation approach. Ambulation, as main objective, is achieved in almost half the population examined. Prospective studies are needed to evaluate safety and efficacy of physiotherapy during Awake ECLS, and suitable patient selection. Guidelines are required to identify appropriate assessment/evaluation tools for Awake ECLS patients monitoring.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-958
Number of pages20
Issue number5
Early online date27 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • Extracorporeal Life Support
  • Awake ECLS
  • physiotherapy
  • mechanical ventilation
  • systematic review
  • ICU


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