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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Physiotherapy-supervised mobilization and exercise following cardiac surgery: a national questionnaire survey in Sweden

Elisabeth Westerdahl123* and Margareta Möller45

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physiotherapy, Örebro University Hospital, 701 85 Örebro, Sweden

2 Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Örebro University Hospital, 701 85 Örebro, Sweden

3 Department of Medical Sciences, Clinical Physiology, University Hospital, 751 85 Uppsala, Sweden

4 Centre for Health Care Sciences, Örebro University Hospital, Örebro County Council, Box 1324, 701 13 Örebro, Sweden

5 School of Health and Medical Sciences, Örebro University, 701 82 Örebro, Sweden

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Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery 2010, 5:67  doi:10.1186/1749-8090-5-67

Published: 25 August 2010



Limited published data are available on how patients are mobilized and exercised during the postoperative hospital stay following cardiac surgery. The aim of this survey was to determine current practice of physiotherapy-supervised mobilization and exercise following cardiac surgery in Sweden.


A prospective survey was carried out among physiotherapists treating adult cardiac surgery patients. A total population sample was identified and postal questionnaires were sent to the 33 physiotherapists currently working at the departments of thoracic surgery in Sweden. In total, 29 physiotherapists (response rate 88%) from eight hospitals completed the survey.


The majority (90%) of the physiotherapists offered preoperative information. The main rationale of physiotherapy treatment after cardiac surgery was to prevent and treat postoperative complications, improve pulmonary function and promote physical activity. In general, one to three treatment sessions were given by a physiotherapist on postoperative day 1 and one to two treatment sessions were given during postoperative days 2 and 3. During weekends, physiotherapy was given to a lesser degree (59% on Saturdays and 31% on Sundays to patients on postoperative day 1). No physiotherapy treatment was given in the evenings. The routine use of early mobilization and shoulder range of motion exercises was common during the first postoperative days, but the choice of exercises and duration of treatment varied. Patients were reminded to adhere to sternal precautions. There were great variations of instructions to the patients concerning weight bearing and exercises involving the sternotomy. All respondents considered physiotherapy necessary after cardiac surgery, but only half of them considered the physiotherapy treatment offered as optimal.


The results of this survey show that there are small variations in physiotherapy-supervised mobilization and exercise following cardiac surgery in Sweden. However, the frequency and duration of exercises and recommendations for sternal precautions reinforced for the healing period differ between physiotherapists. This survey provides an initial insight into physiotherapy management in Sweden. Comparison with surveys in other countries is warranted to improve the physiotherapy management and postoperative recovery of the cardiac surgery patient.