Background: Upper abdominal surgery (UAS) has the potential to cause post-operative pulmonary complications (PPCs). In the absence of high-quality research regarding post-operative physiotherapy management, consensus-based best practice guidelines formulated by Hanekom et al. (2012) are available to clinicians providing recommendations for post-UAS treatment. Such best practice guidelines have recommended that physiotherapists should be using early mobilisation and respiratory intervention to minimise risk of PPCs. However, recent evidence supports the implementation of mobilisation as a standalone treatment in PPC prevention, though the diversity in literature poses questions regarding ideal current practice. This project aimed to document and report the assessment measures and interventions physiotherapists are utilising following UAS, establishing whether current management is reflective of best practice guidelines and recent evidence.

Results: An online survey was completed by 57 experienced Australian physiotherapists working with patients following UAS (35% survey response rate, 63% completion rate). On day one following UAS, when a patient’s condition is not medically limited, most physiotherapists routinely mobilise. Additionally, routine chest treatment continues to be implemented, with only 23% (n = 11/47) of physiotherapists mobilising patients without accompanying specific respiratory intervention. Variability of screening tools used to identify post-operative patients at high risk of PPC development was evident. Patient-dependent factors such as ‘fatigue’ and ‘non-compliance’ were among those identified as barriers to treatment, all influencing the commencement of treatment.

Conclusions: Physiotherapists indicated that early mobilisation away from the bedside was the preferred post-operative treatment within the UAS patient population. Many continue to perform routine respiratory interventions despite recent literature suggesting it may provide no additional benefit to preventing PPCs. Current intervention choice is reflective of guidelines [1], however, recent literature has called this into question and more research needs to be done to establish if these recommendations are the most effective at reducing PPCs. Continued research is necessary to promote translation of knowledge to ensure physiotherapists are mobilising patients day one post-UAS. Likewise, future work should focus on identification of barriers, the strategies used to overcome limitations and the creation of a reliable and validated screening tool to ensure appropriate prioritisation and allocation of physiotherapy resources within the UAS patient population.


upper abdominal surgery, physiotherapy, mobilisation, ambulation, post-operative pulmonary complications