COVID-19 impact on physical function review hits the Big Apple

A systematic review by GCU researchers studying the changes and recovery in physical function and fitness after COVID-19 has appeared in the New York Times.

The research was led by PhD student Scott Rooney with Professor Lorna Paul, Professor in Allied Health Science in the Department of Physiotherapy and Paramedicine and PhD student Amy Webster

The team decided to carry out the review because COVID-19 is a novel infection and there is limited understanding of the long-term impact and recovery of patients following infection.

They reviewed research evidence from the global SARS Coronavirus outbreak in 2003-2004 to find out the impact of the virus on long-term changes and recovery in physical function and fitness.

Evidence from 10 studies of over 500 SARS patients showed that levels of physical function were significantly reduced following the infection and recovery in many cases was incomplete as these impairments persisted for up to 1-2 years later.

The evidence also showed that patients in intensive care units who required ventilators for breathing assistance had higher levels of impairments, suggesting that more severe infections may result in prolonged recovery.

Evidence from one study highlighted that exercise may be beneficial in promoting the recovery of physical function after the infection, although further work is required to find out the effects of rehabilitation and exercise in people with COVID-19.

Dr Paul, a physiotherapist, who is part of GCU’s Living with Stroke and other long term neurological conditions research group, said: “What we found from the SARS virus was that people experienced problems with physical function and reduced levels of fitness years following the infection.

“Considering the similarities between SARS and the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected that people with people with COVID-19 will experience similar impairments to physical function and fitness. Therefore, this research helps to understand the likely pattern of impairment and recovery for COVID-19 patients.

“Given the rising number of COVID-19 cases globally and in the UK, our research findings suggest that many people will require rehabilitation to promote recovery following infection. This highlights the important role of rehabilitation services and allied health professionals in helping people recover from the virus.”

The research paper entitled ‘Systematic Review of Changes and Recovery in Physical Function and Fitness After Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome–Related Coronavirus Infection: Implications for COVID-19 Rehabilitation’ can be viewed here and the piece in the New York Times can be found here.

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