Rehabilitation and COVID-19: a rapid living systematic review by Cochrane Rehabilitation Field updated as of December 31st, 2020 and synthesis of the scientific literature of 2020

Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2021 Apr;57(2):181-188. doi: 10.23736/S1973-9087.21.06870-2. Epub 2021 Feb 18.


Introduction: COVID-19 infection significantly increased mortality risk and the burden of disability in most survivors, regardless of symptom severity at onset. The rehabilitation needs of people infected are receiving growing attention, as evidenced by the increasing number of publications, including those addressing the chronic consequences of infection. This rapid living systematic review reports the evidence published in November and December 2020 and summarises the entire body of literature on rehabilitation in COVID-19 patients published in 2020.

Evidence acquisition: This update was performed using the methodology reported by the second edition conducted by Cochrane Rehabilitation REH-COVER Action. We searched PubMed, Embase, CINAHL, Scopus, Web of Science, and Pedro databases. Papers related to COVID-19 and rehabilitation were retrieved and summarised descriptively.

Evidence synthesis: The search retrieved 4441 studies. After the removal of duplicates and the screening for title and abstract, we retained 105 studies. Of these, we included 54 in the qualitative synthesis of this update. According to OCEBM 2011 levels of evidence table, most studies (64.8%) fall within the category of level 4 evidence. Up to 40.7% of papers included COVID-19 patients in the postacute phase. In 2020, our rapid living systematic review included 230 studies; most of these (73.9%) were level 4 studies, 25.7% were level 3, and only one study was level 2. The evidence level improved over time. While most studies (44.8%) included patients with acute COVID-19, we observed a gradual increase in the number of reports about chronic symptoms and the long-term consequences of the infection.

Conclusions: The update of the rapid living systematic review by Cochrane Rehabilitation Field demonstrates an increase in the level of evidence of studies addressing the rehabilitation needs associated with COVID-19 infection. Although most studies are still case reports/series, there is a trend towards conducting prospective investigations of the early natural history of the disease (first months post onset). High-quality-level studies on the efficacy of rehabilitation, and long-term monitoring of the disease and its sequelae are yet to emerge.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • Periodicals as Topic*
  • SARS-CoV-2*