Physical functioning post-COVID-19 and the recovery process: a mixed methods study

Disabil Rehabil. 2023 Apr 20;1-10. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2023.2201512. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: To describe physical functioning after severe COVID-19-infection.

Materials and method: An explanatory sequential mixed method design was used. Thirty-nine participants performed tests and answered questionnaires measuring physical functioning six months after hospitalisation due to COVID-19. Thirty of these participants participated in semi-structured interviews with questions regarding how they perceived their physical functioning and recovery from COVID-19 at 12 months post-hospitalisation.

Results: At six months, physical functioning measured via chair stand test and hip-worn accelerometers was lower than normal reference values. There was a reduction in breathing muscle strength. Participants estimated their functional status during different activities as lower compared to those before COVID-19-infection, measured with a patient-specific functional scale. At one year after infection, there were descriptions of a rough recovery process and remaining symptoms.

Conclusion: Patients recovering from severe COVID-19 seem to have reduced physical functioning and activity levels, and they perceive their recovery to be slow and difficult. They experienced a lack of clinical support and contradictory advice regarding rehabilitation. Coaching in returning to physical functioning after the infection needs to be better co-ordinated and there is a need for guidelines for health professionals to avoid patients receiving contradictory advice.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; exercise; physical activity; qualitative research; recovery of function; rehabilitation; severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Plain language summary

Coronavirus infection disease-19 (COVID-19) can have a great impact on a person’s physical functioning.In the early course of the COVID-19 pandemic there were not any clear guidelines regarding rehabilitation for this group of patients.As some people with COVID-19 may have impairments in their physical functioning up to one year after leaving hospital there is a need to provide rehabilitation.