How rehabilitation could help people with Covid-19 recover

Progressive exercise and early mobilisation are among the elements of rehabilitation programmes that may improve recovery for people who are hospitalised with severe Covid-19 – according to research involving the University of East Anglia.

Researchers at UEA’s School of Health Sciences were part of a review of available evidence on whether rehabilitation benefitted patients admitted to intensive or critical care with respiratory illness, as information on people with Covid-19 was not available when the research began.

The study, led by the University of Exeter and supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration South West Peninsula, found that progressive exercise and getting people mobile early may both help recovery from severe respiratory illness, and those findings could be applied to Covid-19 care.

The team also found that rehabilitation programmes with a number of different components could be beneficial.

Dr Jane Cross, from UEA’s School of Health Sciences, said: “We know that Covid-19 can have a lasting impact on people’s lives after leaving hospital and we wanted to find out more about how people can be best supported to regain their health once they have been discharged.

“We found that getting people moving early is key to recovery and getting people back on their feet.”

The rapid systematic review led by Prof Vickie Goodwin at the University of Exeter included 24 systematic reviews, 11 randomised control trials and eight qualitative studies, which interviewed patients about their rehabilitation, to explore their views and experience. From these interviews, the team found that rehabilitation can give hope and confidence to patients, although approaches need to be tailored to the individual.

One rehabilitation programme after hospital discharge from intensive care was found to give people a boost and a different outlook for the future. One patient said: “I just feel full of life. I can’t wait for tomorrow, you know . . . Before it was just day after day, but now it’s- I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

In another study, the recognition of setting goals to achieve small steps was an important part of recovery. A patient reported: “Well, I was shocked at how little I could do, but now, it’s the other way, I’m actually shocked at how much I can do and I am doing. It’s really good.”

Study co-author Sallie Lamb, Mireille Gillings, Professor of Health Innovation at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Rehabilitation is a crucial element of Covid-19 care that must not be over-looked. As Covid-19 is still so new, there’s no evidence that evaluate the benefits of rehabilitation programmes for those in recovery. We now urgently need research to evaluate the benefit of programmes to patients with Covid-19 specifically.”

The research was led by Exeter University in in collaboration with Nottingham Universities NHS Trust, UEA and the University of Nottingham.

Rehabilitation to enable recovery from COVID-19: a rapid systematic review’ is published in Physiotherapy on February 24, 2021.

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