Let’s cycle

The use of a bed bicycle in an acute hospital is a win-win situation for patients, therapists, clinics and our health care system

Tobias Giebler

The rapid restoration of independent mobility is the goal for patients in acute care. In addition to individual therapy, the accompanying use of device-based training can offer opportunities for patients, therapists and clinics.

Mobilisation should be started for patients within the first 72 hours – this is what the guideline of the German Society for Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine recommends

For early mobilisation in intensive care units, it is crucial that therapy is started promptly. Studies [12] suggest that the consequences of insufficient early mobilisation cannot easily be made up for in further rehabilitation. So for patients for whom there are no exclusion criteria, mobilisation should be started within the first 72 hours – as recommended by the guideline of the German Society for Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine [1]. Therapy should be performed twice daily for at least 20 minutes. Successful early mobilisation can significantly reduce the length of stay in intensive care units, the length of hospital stay and mortality [9]. The possibility of returning to an independent and self-determined life increases [10].

Early mobilisation is divided into:

  1. Passive mobilisation
  2. Assisted-active mobilisation
  3. Active mobilisation

The recommendation to use a bed bicycle is found in the German guideline for all stages of mobilisation [1]. The bed bicycle is therefore an integral part of the entire early mobilisation concept.

In practice, after a systematic interdisciplinary evaluation of the patient’s overall situation, the mobilisation level is usually determined using the ICU Mobility Scale [5] and a therapy goal is formulated. The ICU Mobility Scale, as simplified standardised language, is a scale from 0 to 11, where 0 denotes no mobilisation, 5 denotes active transfer to a chair and 11 denotes independent walking.

The use of a bed bicycle such as the THERATrainer bemo cannot replace therapeutic intervention. Here, the focus is on assisted sitting at the edge of the bed up to active walking as mobilisation goals as soon as this is possible. However, the bed bicycle can make a significant contribution to successful early mobilisation in intensive care units.

While the legs are completely guided and secured during passive mobilisation with the bed bicycle, the resistance can be switched on and increased with increasing activity. When used in conjunction with THERA-soft, a versatile and fun training software, it offers motivating and varied training, a welcome change for the otherwise monotonous and psychologically stressful everyday life in intensive care. The cardiovascular system is stimulated and the maintenance of joint mobility is promoted. Especially when it comes to extending walking distance, the bed bicycle proves useful for strengthening the lower extremities. In addition, long-stay patients, for example after sepsis, often suffer from polyneuropathy and myopathy, or ICUAW (intensive care unit-acquired weakness) for short, which is damage to the peripheral nerves and muscles. In addition to the characteristic onset of paresis, movement of the extremities is often painful. In practice, the use of the bed bicycle often has a pain-relieving effect after a few minutes. In the early phase, when patients are not yet able to initiate movements themselves, it has been shown that a bed bicycle can really be used to full effect.

Burtin [2] compared standard mobilisation with standard mobilisation plus 20 minutes of bed bicycle. As soon as the patients were able to pedal actively, the 20 minutes were divided into 2x10 min of active pedalling.

On discharge from hospital, the 6-minute walking test showed a clear difference in walking distance. While the control group walked an average of 143 m, the intervention group walked an average of 196 m – an increase in walking distance of 37%.

Independent walking was possible for 73% vs. 55% of patients. It also showed that the functional strength gain for the thigh extensors increased significantly through passive use.


The work of Machado [8] was able to underline that through passive use, i.e. when the patient is not yet able to support the pedalling action, a significant increase in muscle power (MRC score) can be achieved. The strength tests took place on the day of discharge (post-implementation) and on the first day (pre-implementation) that the patient could be awoken.

The issue of application safety [7] is also supported by evidence. Only one safety-relevant event (0.2 per cent) occurred in 541 uses of a bed bicycle.

Bed bicycle – evidence-based effects of early mobilisation at a glance:

  • Increase in walking distance [2]
  • Independent walking becomes more possible again during the course of treatment [2]
  • Strength increase in the knee extensors (quadriceps muscle), especially significantly faster strength increase during the further course of treatment after acute therapy [2,8]
  • Reduction of oxidative stress [11]
  • Low risk [7]

Devices such as the THERA-Trainer bemo, for example, additionally offer the possibility of torso and arm training. Even though I am not aware of any evidence on this, I would expect the use as an upper body exerciser to be beneficial. For example, strengthening the trunk and arms generally promotes an upright posture, thus improving breathing mechanics and also chest mobility. This in turn leads to improved secretolysis and secretion transport. Last but not least, the deepening of breathing, the strengthening of the respiratory and respiratory support muscles probably contributes to weaning off the ventilator.

A bed bicycle such as the THERA-Trainer bemo can also be used effectively in the area of post-operative neurosurgery patients. Here it is mainly used for patients with restrictions in the area of the lower extremities due to paraplegia or hemiparesis, for example, regardless of the cause of these symptoms. However, it is also popular for patients who have been prescribed bed rest due to neuromonitoring for diagnosing epilepsy. The pedalling action of cycling and the motion of walking are similar [13], so the same muscle parts are used in a similarly coordinated way. Gait rehabilitation for these post-operatively neurologically affected patients can therefore be well supported. Especially for patients who can already take their first steps with a lot of support, the accompanying use of the bed bicycle has proven very successful. Since it requires only a manageable amount of time, it allows for an additional training session as well as the daily gait training with the therapists. Patients can perform and practise the gait-like pedalling action with high numbers of repetitions and at a speed according to their abilities, right through to simply improving strength in order to extend their walking distance. There are also high acceptance levels among patients for tone regulation and pain relief. Studies looking at RAGT (Robotic-Assisted Gait Training) show that especially high numbers of repetitions play a role in gait rehabilitation. These cannot be realised alone with one therapy session a day of group gait training. Bed bikes like the THERA-Trainer bemo therefore support gait rehabilitation, especially in the first days after surgical interventions, before the patients are then transferred to a rehabilitation clinic.

The limits of application are seen in the field of neurosurgery in patients with pronounced paresis and plegia of the upper extremities. Due to the lack of muscular control of the shoulder joint, its use is not indicated here. There are also limitations in the context of early mobilisation. In addition to injuries, femoral sheaths and catheters such as ECMO cannulas (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) are reasons to consider its use carefully. The access points in the vessels move through regular hip flexion and extension. Germs from the skin surface enter the body and can pass into the bloodstream without a barrier. The tunica intima of the veins and arteries (inner lining) is also exposed to constant friction. The risk of vascular dissection, damage to the tunica intima with subsequent undermining by the bloodstream, increases.

In summary, bed bicycles such as the THERATrainer bemo support early mobilisation and gait rehabilitation in acute care hospitals very effectively. The ability to walk is a frequent and highpriority goal for patients. The bed bicycle does not replace the therapist, but it can contribute to a successful recovery of body function in terms of activity and participation according to ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) [3]. In the context of early mobilisation in intensive care units, it has proven to be attractive in many different respects.

Due to its intuitive handling, low usage costs and simple hygienic preparation, the THERA-Trainer bemo is an option for a supplementary, second mobilisation in accordance with the guidelines, especially in times of scarce personnel resources. Successful early mobilisation is an important building block for patients to return to an independent and self-determined life [10].

A favourable cost-benefit ratio can also be demonstrated for the clinics. The shortened length of stay in intensive care units and hospitals associated with successful early mobilisation [9] and the reduction of complications has not only a direct positive effect. There is also a lightening of the burden on the healthcare system due to the savings in therapy and nursing costs [1,4,6,12,]. In my opinion, the use of a bed bicycle in an acute care hospital is a win-win for patients, therapists, clinics and our health care system. Let’s cycle!


[1] Bein T, Bischoff M, Bru?ckner U et al. (2015). S2e-Leitlinie: „Lagerungstherapie und Fru?hmobilisation zur Prophylaxe oder Therapie von pulmonalen Funktionsstörungen“, Deutsche Gesellschaft fu?r Anästhesiologie und Intensivmedizin (DGAI).

[2] Burtin C, Clerckx B, Robbeets C et al. (2009). Early exercise in critically ill patients enhances short-term functional recovery.
[3] Deutsches Institut fu?r Medizinische Dokumentation und Information (Genf 2005). (DIMDI) (Hrsg.): Internationale Klassifikation der Funktionsfähigkeit, Behinderung und Gesundheit (ICF). WHO,
[4] Hodgson C et al. (2014). Expert consensus and recommendation on safety criteria for active mobilization of mechanically ventilated critically ill adults, in: Critical Care, 18, S. 19.
[5] Hodgson C, Needham D, Bailey M et al. (2014). ICU Mobility Scale.
[6] Intensive Care NSW (2017). Clinical guideline: Physical activity and movement: A guideline for critically ill adults, Chatswood NSW: AGENCY FOR CLINICAL INNOVATION.
[7] Kho ME et al. (2015). Feasibility and safety of inbed cycling for physical rehabilitation in the intensive care unit, in: Journal of critical care.
[8] Machado A et al. (2017). Effects that passive cycling exercise have on muscle strength, duration of mechanical ventilation, and length of hospital stay in critically ill patients: a randomized clinical trial.
[9] Morris PE, Goad A, Thompson C et al. (2008). Early intensive care unit mobility therapy in the treatment of acute respiratory failure.
[10] Nessizius S, Rottensteiner C, Nydahl P (2017). Fru?hrehabilitation in der Intensivmedizin – Interprofessionelles Management, S. 90-174.
[11] Tenório de França E (2017). Oxidative stress and immune system analysis after cycle ergometer use in critical patients.
[12] Taito S, Yamauchi K, Tsujimoto Y, Banno M, Tsujimoto H, Kataoka Y (2019). Does enhanced physical rehabilitation following intensive care unit discharge improve outcomes in patients who received mechanical ventilation? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open.2019;9:e026075. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026075
[13] Zehr EP et al. (2016). Neuromechanical interactions between the limbs during human locomotion: an evolutionary perspective with translation to rehabilitation. Exp Brain Res 234:3059-3081.