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Is there evidence to support the use of lateral positioning in intensive care? A systematic review

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


A systematic review of randomised clinical trials was conducted to investigate the efficacy and safety of use of the lateral position in the management of ventilated intensive care patients. One review article and 11 empiric studies, which were mostly of low methodological quality, met the eligibility criteria. Large individual variations in PaO2 response to lateral positioning were demonstrated. Greatest improvement in PaO2 occurred in patients with unilateral pulmonary infiltrates positioned with the bad lung up versus bad lung down (average difference = 33.6 mmHg (range 0-58), effect size 1.13 (95% CI: 0.44, 1.19, P = 0.001)) or supine (average difference = 27 mmHg (range 5-42), effect size 0.58 (95% CI: 0.11, 1.06, P = 0.017)). This effect appeared to be most prominent in patients with widespread, unilateral infiltrates. Lung compliance was not affected by lateral positioning. Haemodynamic compromise was evident with lateral positioning of greater than 60° to the right side in patients requiring vasopressors and/or with right ventricular dysfunction; or with lateral positioning in postoperative coronary artery bypass graft patients. No studies were found that had investigated the effect of routine applications of the lateral positioning to improve, prevent or treat pneumonia, decrease mortality or influence other long-term outcomes. The results of this review demonstrate the limited evidence available to support the use of lateral positioning in the intensive care environment. More data reporting the long-term effects of lateral position on long-term outcomes would aid clinical decision making and may improve the application of patient positioning in critical care environments.

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