Do Patients With COVID-19 Benefit from Rehabilitation? Functional Outcomes of the First 100 Patients in a COVID-19 Rehabilitation Unit

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2021 Jun;102(6):1067-1074. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2021.01.069. Epub 2021 Feb 4.


Objective: To determine the benefits associated with brief inpatient rehabilitation for coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) patients.

Design: Retrospective chart review.

Setting: A newly created specialized rehabilitation unit in a tertiary care medical center.

Participants: Consecutive sample of patients (N=100) with COVID-19 infection admitted to rehabilitation.

Intervention: Inpatient rehabilitation for postacute care COVID-19 patients.

Main outcome measures: Measurements at admission and discharge comprised a Barthel Activities of Daily Living Index (including baseline value before COVID-19 infection), time to perform 10 sit-to-stands with associated cardiorespiratory changes, and grip strength (dynamometry). Correlations between these outcomes and the time spent in the intensive care unit (ICU) were explored.

Results: Upon admission to rehabilitation, 66% of the patients were men, the age was 66±22 years, mean delay from symptom onset was 20.4±10.0 days, body mass index was 26.0±5.4 kg/m2, 49% had hypertension, 29% had diabetes, and 26% had more than 50% pulmonary damage on computed tomographic scans. The mean length of rehabilitation stay was 9.8±5.6 days. From admission to discharge, the Barthel index increased from 77.3±26.7 to 88.8±24.5 (P<.001), without recovering baseline values (94.5±16.2; P<.001). There was a 37% improvement in sit-to-stand frequency (0.27±0.16 to 0.37±0.16 Hz; P<.001), a 13% decrease in post-test respiratory rate (30.7±12.6 to 26.6±6.1; P=.03), and a 15% increase in grip strength (18.1±9.2 to 20.9±8.9 kg; P<.001). At both admission and discharge, Barthel score correlated with grip strength (ρ=0.39-0.66; P<.01), which negatively correlated with time spent in the ICU (ρ=-0.57 to -0.49; P<.05).

Conclusions: Inpatient rehabilitation for COVID-19 patients was associated with substantial motor, respiratory, and functional improvement, especially in severe cases, although there remained mild persistent autonomy loss upon discharge. After acute stages, COVID-19, primarily a respiratory disease, might convert into a motor impairment correlated with the time spent in intensive care.

Keywords: COVID-19; Pandemics; Rehabilitation.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / rehabilitation*
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inpatients*
  • Male
  • Pandemics*
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2