Muscle wasting occurs rapidly within days of an admission to the intensive care unit (ICU). Concomitant muscle weakness and impaired physical functioning can ensue, with lasting effects well after hospital discharge. Early physical rehabilitation is a promising intervention to minimize muscle weakness and physical dysfunction. However, there is an often a delay in commencing active functional exercises (such as sitting on the edge of bed, standing and mobilizing) due to sedation, patient alertness, and impaired ability to cooperate in the initial days of ICU admission. Therefore, there is high interest in being able to intervene early through nonvolitional exercise strategies such as electrical muscle stimulation (EMS).
Muscle health characterized as the composite of muscle quantity, as well as functional and metabolic integrity, may be potentially maintained when optimal nutrition therapy is provided in complement with early physical rehabilitation in critically ill patients; however, the type, dosage, and timing of these interventions are unclear.
This article explores the potential role of nutrition and EMS in maintaining muscle health in critical illness. Within this article, we will evaluate fundamental concepts of muscle wasting and evaluate the effects of EMS, as well as the effects of nutrition therapy on muscle health and the clinical and functional outcomes in critically ill patients. We will also highlight current research gaps in order to advance the field forward in this important area.