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Physiotherapy's role in COVID-19 recovery

For those that have experienced acute COVID-19 the treatment can go past the the virus itself and extend into a rehabilitation period. St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals Physiotherapy Cardiorespiratory Service Lead Anne Saunders explains what this journey could look like.

7 Oct 2020

Physiotherapy’s role in COVID-19 recovery

One of the key ways of rehabilitating from COVID-19 in the hospital setting is with the assistance of a physiotherapist who is able to complete an assessment and develop a goal based plan for the patient. 

The level of treatment required depends on the severity of the case which can range from minimal intervention for less-complex cases to a multiple week program for those who were intubated in an Intensive Care Unit.  

The severity of the case will also indicate how the patient can be assessed. To minimise infection it may be possible to asses a patient without entering the room, using a phone or with the assistance of our nursing colleagues. 

The plan will likely aim to restore respiratory and physical function, exercise tolerance, mobility and activities of daily living and some of the exercises may include the following:

  • Chest physiotherapy to support lung capacity. This could include prone positioning whilst intubated, airway clearance exercises as required and encouraging ambulation with increasing distance to challenge the lungs.
  • Using a tilt table to stretch the legs and ankles after prolonged periods of bed rest. This could include adjusting the patient to an upright position and generally strengthening the muscles throughout the body by allowing them to weight bear in a supportive and gradual manner.
  • Gradually working on a range of motion exercises while the patient remains in bed. 
  • Restoring posture by sitting on the edge of the bed to regain sitting balance by engaging the core postural muscles.
  • Exercises to enable the patient to walk including: seated strength exercises, repeated sit-to-stand, walking practice with decreasing use of an aid as the patient progresses, gait re-training and balance exercises.

As COVID-19 is a new virus we are continuously learning more about it and the treatment options. The experience thus far is that those with more severe cases are more likely to need rehabilitation support and physiotherapy may continue to play a role in recovery. 

World Physiotherapy Day is celebrated every year on 8 September. It is an opportunity to recognise the work that physiotherapists do for their patients and community. In 2020 the focus is on rehabilitation and COVID-19.

 

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