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Rehabilitation could help people with Covid-19 recover, according to a new study

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

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 a new study.

Experts led a review of all the available evidence on whether rehabilitation benefitted patients who were 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, published in Physiotherapy 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 people recover from severe respiratory illness, and those findings could be applied to Covid-19 care. They also found that rehabilitation programmes with a number of different components could be beneficial.

A team at the University of Exeter led the review, with input from co-authors from Nottingham Universities NHS Trust and the Universities of Nottingham and East Anglia.  

The two researchers from University of Nottingham were Dr Alison Cowley, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, and Honorary (Clinical) Assistant Professor, School of Medicine and Professor Avril Drummond, Professor of Healthcare Research, in the School of Health Sciences.

We know there is demand for rehabilitation in Covid-19 care. However, as COVID-19 is new, there is very little research evidence to guide clinicians and patients. We have therefore drawn on existing research from those recovering from severe respiratory illness in order to generate practical recommendations. This review does not change the fact that we urgently require evaluations of specific rehabilitation programmes for those recovering from Covid-19.”
Professor Avril Drummond

Study lead Vicki Goodwin MBE, Associate Professor of Ageing and Rehabilitation at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Covid-19 can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, long after they leave hospital. We urgently need to find the best ways to support people to regain their health both in hospital and when they return home. Our research found that getting people moving early on is a key component that can help shape rehabilitation programmes, to get people back on their feet as swiftly as possible”.

The rapid systematic review 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 as 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."

The full study can be found here.

Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. The University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its status as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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