Acute Care Physical Therapy and Sickle Cell Disease: A Review of the Literature : Journal of Acute Care Physical Therapy

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Acute Care Physical Therapy and Sickle Cell Disease

A Review of the Literature

Reader, Ben; Tysowsky, Melana; Collins, Andrew B.; Power-Hays, Alexandra

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Journal of Acute Care Physical Therapy 14(2):p 87-92, April 2023. | DOI: 10.1097/JAT.0000000000000207


Background and Purpose: 

Vaso-occlusive crises (VOC) are the most common cause for hospitalization in children and adolescents with sickle cell disease (SCD) in the United States. Physical therapy interventions provide nonpharmacological pain management and help hospitalized patients maintain mobility and function, but little is known about their application to the unique pathophysiology of those with SCD. The purpose of this review is to summarize evidence relevant to the physical therapy management of children and adolescents hospitalized with VOC.


A literature search of PubMed, Cochrane, CINAHL, and EMBASE databases was performed using key words relevant to physical therapy interventions for children and adolescents with SCD and acute pain.


Sixteen articles were included in this review. Interventions identified included heat, mobilization, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, massage, yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises, virtual reality, incentive spirometry, and patient/family education.


Physical therapists may be able to aid in the acute pain management of patients with SCD. Current literature relies on small observational studies making generalization difficult. Future studies are critical to improve evidence-based physical therapy practice in this population.

© 2022 Academy of Acute Care Physical Therapy, APTA

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