Chest wall loading in the ICU: pushes, weights, and positions

John Selickman, John J Marini
Annals of Intensive Care 2022 November 8, 12 (1): 103
Clinicians monitor mechanical ventilatory support using airway pressures-primarily the plateau and driving pressure, which are considered by many to determine the safety of the applied tidal volume. These airway pressures are influenced not only by the ventilator prescription, but also by the mechanical properties of the respiratory system, which consists of the series-coupled lung and chest wall. Actively limiting chest wall expansion through external compression of the rib cage or abdomen is seldom performed in the ICU. Recent literature describing the respiratory mechanics of patients with late-stage, unresolving, ARDS, however, has raised awareness of the potential diagnostic (and perhaps therapeutic) value of this unfamiliar and somewhat counterintuitive practice. In these patients, interventions that reduce resting lung volume, such as loading the chest wall through application of external weights or manual pressure, or placing the torso in a more horizontal position, have unexpectedly improved tidal compliance of the lung and integrated respiratory system by reducing previously undetected end-tidal hyperinflation. In this interpretive review, we first describe underappreciated lung and chest wall interactions that are clinically relevant to both normal individuals and to the acutely ill who receive ventilatory support. We then apply these physiologic principles, in addition to published clinical observation, to illustrate the utility of chest wall modification for the purposes of detecting end-tidal hyperinflation in everyday practice.

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