Rehabilitation and COVID-19: rapid living systematic review by Cochrane Rehabilitation Field - third edition. Update as of June 30th, 2021

Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2021 Oct;57(5):850-857. doi: 10.23736/S1973-9087.21.07301-9.


Introduction: This paper updates and summarizes the current evidence informing rehabilitation of patients with COVID-19 and/or describing the consequences of the disease and its treatment.

Evidence acquisition: Studies published from May 1st to June 30th, 2021 were selected, excluding descriptive studies and expert opinions. Papers were categorized according to study design, research question, COVID-19 phase, limitations of functioning of rehabilitation interest, and type of rehabilitation service involved. From this edition, we improved the quality assessment using the Joanna Briggs Institute checklists for observational studies and the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool for randomized-controlled clinical trials (RCTs).

Evidence synthesis: Twenty-five, out of 3699 papers, were included. They were three RCTs, 13 cross-sectional studies and nine cohort studies. Twenty studies reported data on symptom prevalence (N.=13) or disease natural history (N.=7); and five studies reported intervention effectiveness at the individual level. All study participants were COVID survivors and 48% of studies collected information on participants 6 months or longer after COVID-19 onset. The most frequent risks of bias for RCTs concerned weaknesses in allocation concealment, blinding of therapists, and lack of intention-to-treat analysis. Most analytical studies failed to identify or deal with confounders, describe or deal with dropouts or eventually perform an appropriate statistical analysis.

Conclusions: Most studies in this updated review targeted the prevalence of limitations of functioning of rehabilitation interest in COVID-19 survivors. This is similar to past review findings; however, data in the new studies was collected at longer follow-up periods (up to one year after symptom onset) and in larger samples of participants. More RCTs and analytical observational studies are available, but the methodological quality of recently published studies is low. There is a need for good quality intervention efficacy and effectiveness studies to complement the rapidly expanding evidence from observational studies.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • COVID-19*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2