Studies role of physical therapy in recovery from Covid-19

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The coronavirus pandemic has the world in its grip. Worldwide, more than 265 million cases of Covid-19 have been registered, and more than 5.2 million people have died from it. About 14% of people infected with Covid-19 end up in hospital and some require intensive care. These patients face lung problems, neurological disorders, reduced physical capacity, muscle weakness and psychological and cognitive impairment. Emma De Keersmaecker and a team from the UZ Brussel and VUB’s Rehabilitation Research group investigated how these complications can be countered with the right physiotherapeutic treatment.

De Keersmaecker: "We were able to establish that physical therapy during recovery from Covid-19 has a positive effect on patients’ lung function, physical fitness and psychosocial well-being. This makes the physiotherapist indispensable during rehabilitation after Covid-19."

Until now, guidelines for the physiotherapy treatment of Covid-19 patients were often based on the opinion of experts or on previous studies in patients with other, similar lung diseases. In the meantime, however, a growing number of clinical studies have examined the effect of physiotherapy on the recovery of Covid-19 patients. The researchers began to examine these studies to gain more knowledge about the effectiveness of physical therapy for Covid-19 and to be able to formulate general guidelines.

The analysis made clear that pulmonary rehabilitation, whether or not combined with exercise therapy or aerobic training, is a very important and necessary intervention during rehabilitation after Covid-19. Patients improved in several areas. The physical therapy had a positive influence on the lung function as well as the physical and psychosocial function.

De Keersmaecker: "Despite these positive results, there is a need for more high-quality research on all stages of recovery after Covid-19, acute and chronic, to provide healthcare professionals with clear evidence-based guidelines. In this research, it is also important to include more personalised and behavioural approaches and to explore other interventions, such as nutritional optimisation and counselling in the form of psychological support."

Fifteen studies met the pre-defined criteria for the study, with a total of 1,341 Covid-19 patients. In these studies, physiotherapy was offered in various forms. There were interventions where the focus was on pulmonary rehabilitation, to improve lung function. These treatments consisted mainly of training the respiratory muscles, coughing and breathing exercises, lying on the stomach or positive airway pressure ventilation. Other interventions focused more on improving patients’ general fitness. These treatments consisted of exercise therapy (strength training, balance training, mobility exercises) and aerobic training (walking, cycling). These studies examined the effect of these interventions on both the pulmonary function of the Covid-19 patients and on their physical fitness and psychosocial functioning.

The study was published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine.