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Knowledge about early physiotherapy to preterm infants is sparse, given the risk of delayed motor development and cerebral palsy.
A pragmatic randomized controlled study has been designed to assess the effect of a preventative physiotherapy program carried out in the neonatal intensive care unit. Moreover, a qualitative study is carried out to assess the physiotherapy performance and parents' experiences with the intervention. The aim of the physiotherapy program is to improve motor development i.e. postural control and selective movements in these infants. 150 infants will be included and randomized to either intervention or standard follow-up. The infants in the intervention group will be given specific stimulation to facilitate movements based on the individual infant's development, behavior and needs. The physiotherapist teaches the parents how to do the intervention and the parents receive a booklet with photos and descriptions of the intervention. Intervention is carried out twice a day for three weeks (week 34, 35, 36 postmenstrual age). Standardized tests are carried out at baseline, term age and at three, six, 12 and 24 months corrected age. In addition eight triads (infant, parent and physiotherapist) are observed and videotaped in four clinical encounters each to assess the process of physiotherapy performance. The parents are also interviewed on their experiences with the intervention and how it influences on the parent-child relationship. Eight parents from the follow up group are interviewed about their experience. The interviews are performed according to the same schedule as the standardized measurements. Primary outcome is at two years corrected age.
The paper presents the protocol for a randomized controlled trial designed to study the effect of physiotherapy to preterm infants at neonatal intensive care units. It also studies physiotherapy performance and the parent's experiences with the intervention.