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November 1992

Physical Restraints in the Practice of Medicine: Current Concepts

Author Affiliations

From the Fredericksburg (Va) Group Internal Medicine.

Arch Intern Med. 1992;152(11):2203-2206. doi:10.1001/archinte.1992.00400230029005

Objective.—  This article reviews the current status of the utilization of physical restraints in the practice of medicine. Based on current data from the reference sources, appropriate guidelines for the utilization of physical restraints in the practice of medicine are presented.

Data Sources.—  A review of the current literature as referenced in the article. Only English-language references were used.

Study Design.—  Articles were selected based on a review of articles from Index Medicus, English-language only. Articles were reviewed by the author for validity and appropriateness.

Data Extraction.—  The guidelines of data quality, validity, and appropriateness were applied to all articles by the author.

Data Synthesis.—  Restraints are frequently used in the practice of medicine. As many as 85% of nursing home patients will be restrained at some time and up to 17% of hospitalized medical patients will be restrained. This treatment is not always appropriate but there are no current guidelines available for the practicing physician to assist him or her in these decisions. The current use of physical restraints is discussed. The risks of restraints are reviewed and the reasons for restraint use are cited. The question regarding the efficacy of restraints is directly addressed for each of the situations in which restraints are most commonly used. The ethical and legal considerations concerning the use of restraints are reviewed, current concepts are summarized, and guidelines for improved usage of restraints are suggested.

Conclusions.—  Despite their extensive use, there is virtually no evidence to support the efficacy of restraints. The risks of using mechanical restraints are numerous and well documented. The detrimental psychologic impact of restraints needs to be emphasized. Restraints are inappropriately used if employed because of fear of liability should a patient fall. The proper approach to the patient at risk of falling is to address the contributing factors that place the patient at risk and, where possible, correct them.Restraints are overused in medicine. Guidelines are given to help improve the employment of this potentially harmful practice.(Arch Intern Med. 1992;152:2203-2206)