Additive benefit of rehabilitation on physical status, symptoms and mental health after hospitalisation for severe COVID-19 pneumonia

BMJ Open Respir Res. 2023 Jun;10(1):e001377. doi: 10.1136/bmjresp-2022-001377.


Introduction: The potential additive benefits of rehabilitation beyond spontaneous recovery post-COVID-19 currently remain unknown.

Methods: In this prospective, interventional, non-randomised parallel assignment two-arm study, we investigated the effects of an 8-week rehabilitation programme (Rehab, n=25) added to usual care (UC) versus UC (n=27) on respiratory symptoms, fatigue, functional capacity, mental health and health-related quality of life in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, 6-8 weeks post-hospital discharge. The rehabilitation programme included exercise, education, dietary and psychological support. Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory and heart failure were excluded from the study.

Results: At baseline, groups were not different in mean age (56 years), gender (53% female), intensive care unit admission (61%), intubation (39%), days of hospitalisation (25), number of symptoms (9) and number of comorbidities (1.4). Baseline evaluation was conducted at median (IQR) 76 (27) days after symptoms onset. Groups were not different regarding baseline evaluation outcomes. At 8 weeks, Rehab showed significantly greater improvement in COPD Assessment Test by a mean±SEM (95% CI) 7.07±1.36 (4.29-9.84), p <0.001 and all three fatigue questionnaires: Chalder-Likert: 5.65±1.27 (3.04-8.25), p <0.001; bimodal: 3.04±0.86 (1.28-4.79), p=0.001; Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy: 6.37±2.09 (2.08-10.65), p=0.005 and Fatigue Severity Scale: 1.36±0.433 (0.47-2.25), p=0.004. At 8 weeks rehab also showed significantly greater improvment in Short Physical Performance Battery: 1.13±0.33 (0.46-1.79), p=0.002; Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) Anxiety: 2.93±1.01 (0.67-5.18), p=0.013; Beck Depression Inventory: 7.81±3.07 (1.52-14.09), p=0.017; Montreal Cognitive Assessment: 2.83±0.63 (1.5-4.14), p <0.001; EuroQol (EQ-5D-5L) Utility Index: 0.21±0.05 (0.1-0.32), p=0.001 and Visual Analogue Scale: 6.57±3.21 (0.2-13.16), p=0.043. Both groups significantly improved 6-min walking distance by approximately 60 m and pulmonary function measures, whereas post-traumatic stress disorder measurement IES-R (Impact of Event Scale, Revised) and HADS-Depression score were not different between groups at 8 weeks. A 16% attrition rate was observed in the rehabilitation group exhibiting a threefold increase in training workload. There were no adverse effects reported during exercise training.

Discussion: These findings highlight the added value of rehabilitation post-COVID-19 to amplify the natural course of physical and mental recovery that otherwise would remain incomplete with UC.

Keywords: COVID-19; fatigue; functional capacity; health-related quality of life; mental health; rehabilitation; respiratory symptoms.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life