Very early versus delayed mobilisation after stroke

Review question
Does very early and active mobilisation improve recovery after stroke compared with more delayed mobilisation?

Care in a stroke unit is recommended for people soon after a stroke, and results in an improved chance of surviving, returning home, and regaining independence. Very early mobilisation (helping people to get up out of bed very early, and more often after the onset of stroke symptoms) is performed in some stroke units, and is recommended in many acute stroke clinical guidelines. However, the impact of very early mobilisation on recovery after stroke is not clear.

Search date
This review is up-to-date to July 2017.

Study characteristics
This review identified nine trials (2958 participants), although one trial (2104 participants) provided most of the information. On average, very early mobilisation participants started mobilisation 18.5 hours after their stroke, compared with 33.3 hours in the usual care group. In five trials, the very early mobilisation group were also known to have spent more time per day in therapy, or participated in a mobilisation activity.

Main results
Very early mobilisation did not increase the number of people who survived or made a good recovery after their stroke. There was a suggestion that very early mobilisation may reduce the length of stay in hospital by about one day. However, results from the single largest trial, and from an analysis of trials that started mobilising participants very early, raised the concern that starting intensive mobilisation within 24 hours of stroke may carry some increased risk, at least for some people with stroke. This potential risk needs to be clarified.

Quality of the evidence
Overall, the main results were supported by moderate-quality evidence overall, but low-quality evidence backed length of hospital stay and activities of daily living.

Authors' conclusions: 

VEM, which usually involved first mobilisation within 24 hours of stroke onset, did not increase the number of people who survived or made a good recovery after their stroke. VEM may have reduced the length of stay in hospital by about one day, but this was based on low-quality evidence. Based on the potential hazards reported in the single largest RCT, the sensitivity analysis of trials commencing mobilisation within 24 hours, and the NMA, there was concern that VEM commencing within 24 hours may carry an increased risk, at least in some people with stroke. Given the uncertainty around these effect estimates, more detailed research is still required.

Read the full abstract...

Very early mobilisation (VEM) is performed in some stroke units and recommended in some acute stroke clinical guidelines. However, it is unclear whether very early mobilisation independently improves outcome after stroke.


To determine whether very early mobilisation (started as soon as possible, and no later than 48 hours after onset of symptoms) in people with acute stroke improves recovery (primarily the proportion of independent survivors) compared with usual care.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (last searched 31 July 2017). We also systematically searched 19 electronic databases including; CENTRAL; 2017, Issue 7 in the Cochrane Library (searched July 2017), MEDLINE Ovid (1950 to August 2017), Embase Ovid (1980 to August 2017), CINAHL EBSCO (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature; 1937 to August 2017) , PsycINFO Ovid (1806 to August 2017), AMED Ovid (Allied and Complementary Medicine Database), SPORTDiscus EBSCO (1830 to August 2017). We searched relevant ongoing trials and research registers (searched December 2016), the Chinese medical database, Wanfangdata (searched to November 2016), and reference lists, and contacted researchers in the field.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of people with acute stroke, comparing an intervention group that started out-of-bed mobilisation within 48 hours of stroke, and aimed to reduce time-to-first mobilisation, with or without an increase in the amount or frequency (or both) of mobilisation activities, with usual care, where time-to-first mobilisation was commenced later.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently selected trials, extracted data, assessed risk of bias, and applied the GRADE approach to assess the quality of the evidence. The primary outcome was death or poor outcome (dependency or institutionalisation) at the end of scheduled follow-up. Secondary outcomes included death, dependency, institutionalisation, activities of daily living (ADL), extended ADL, quality of life, walking ability, complications (e.g. deep vein thrombosis), patient mood, and length of hospital stay. We also analysed outcomes at three-month follow-up.

Main results: 

We included nine RCTs with 2958 participants; one trial provided most of the information (2104 participants). The median (range) delay to starting mobilisation after stroke onset was 18.5 (13.1 to 43) hours in the VEM group and 33.3 (22.5 to 71.5) hours in the usual care group. The median difference within trials was 12.7 (4 to 45.6) hours. Other differences in intervention varied between trials; in five trials, the VEM group were also reported to have received more time in therapy, or more mobilisation activity.

Primary outcome data were available for 2542 of 2618 (97.1%) participants randomized and followed up for a median of three months. VEM probably led to similar or slightly more deaths and participants who had a poor outcome, compared with delayed mobilisation (51% versus 49%; odds ratio (OR) 1.08, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.92 to 1.26; P = 0.36; 8 trials; moderate-quality evidence). Death occurred in 7% of participants who received delayed mobilisation, and 8.5% of participants who received VEM (OR 1.27, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.70; P = 0.11; 8 trials, 2570 participants; moderate-quality evidence), and the effects on experiencing any complication were unclear (OR 0.88; 95% CI 0.73 to 1.06; P = 0.18; 7 trials, 2778 participants; low-quality evidence). Analysis using outcomes collected only at three-month follow-up did not alter the conclusions.

The mean ADL score (measured at end of follow-up, with the 20-point Barthel Index) was higher in those who received VEM compared with the usual care group (mean difference (MD) 1.94, 95% CI 0.75 to 3.13, P = 0.001; 8 trials, 9 comparisons, 2630/2904 participants (90.6%); low-quality evidence), but there was substantial heterogeneity (93%). Effect sizes were smaller for outcomes collected at three-month follow-up, rather than later.

The mean length of stay was shorter in those who received VEM compared with the usual care group (MD -1.44, 95% CI -2.28 to -0.60, P = 0.0008; 8 trials, 2532/2618 participants (96.7%); low-quality evidence). Confidence in the answer was limited by the variable definitions of length of stay. The other secondary outcome analyses (institutionalisation, extended activities of daily living, quality of life, walking ability, patient mood) were limited by lack of data.

Sensitivity analyses by trial quality: none of the outcome conclusions were altered if we restricted analyses to trials with the lowest risk of bias (based on method of randomization, allocation concealment, completeness of follow-up, and blinding of final assessment), or information about the amount of mobilisation.

Sensitivity analysis by intervention characteristics: analyses restricted to trials where the mean VEM time-to-first mobilisation was less than 24 hours, showed an odds of death of 1.35 (95% CI 0.99 to 1.83; P = 0.06; I² = 25%; 5 trials). Analyses restricted to the trials that clearly reported a more prolonged out-of-bed activity showed a similar primary outcome (OR 1.14; 0.96 to 1.35; P = 0.13; I² = 28%; 5 trials), and odds of death (OR 1.27; 0.93 to 1.73; P = 0.13; I² = 0%; 4 trials) to the main analysis.

Exploratory network meta-analysis (NMA): we were unable to analyze by the amount of therapy, but low-quality evidence indicated that time-to-first mobilisation at around 24 hours was associated with the lowest odds of death or poor outcome, compared with earlier or later mobilisation.