Pulmonary rehabilitation in follow-up and inpatient rehabilitation for Long COVID: twelve months of follow-up

Mercedes Rutsch, Heike Buhr-Schinner, Thomas Gross, Per O Schüller, Ruth Deck


BACKGROUND: Individuals with persistent impairments due to Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) can receive pulmonary rehabilitation in Germany. To date, there is no evidence of the medium- or long-term effects of pulmonary rehabilitation on Long COVID.

AIM: This study examined changes in health and occupational outcomes over time and described the therapeutic content of pulmonary rehabilitation and aftercare. This analysis also compared two rehabilitation groups after COVID-19 who had different levels of access to rehabilitation.

DESIGN: Longitudinal observational study with multicenter and prospective data collection.

SETTING: Pulmonary rehabilitation in four different rehabilitation facilities in Germany.

POPULATION: Individuals with a mild course of disease and long-lasting impairments (inpatient rehabilitation, IR) and patients with a severe course after hospitalization (follow-up rehabilitation, FuR). Participants had to be between 18 and 65 years of age.

METHODS: Written questionnaires were administered at the beginning and end of rehabilitation, as well as six and twelve months after rehabilitation. Health-related quality of life (HrQoL), fatigue, participation restrictions, COVID-19 symptoms, mental and physical health were assessed, as well as occupational outcomes and questions about rehabilitation and aftercare.

RESULTS: IR patients were predominantly female (68.0%) and 52 years of age on average, while 66.1% of Long COVID rehabilitees in FuR were male and three years older. Over the course of rehabilitation, most COVID-19 symptoms decreased with statistical significance. The subjective health scales showed improvements with medium to large effect sizes (ES) over time in IR (P<0.01; ES between 0.55 (cognitive fatigue) and 1.40 (physical fatigue)) and small to large effects in FuR (P<0.01; ES between 0.45 (anxiety) and 1.32 (physical fatigue)). One year after rehabilitation, most effects remained at a moderate level. After twelve months, an increase in neurocognitive symptoms was observed in FuR patients. More than 80% of employed people returned to work one year after rehabilitation, although FuR patients returned to work a median of four weeks later (P<0.01).

CONCLUSIONS: The comparative analysis showed that rehabilitees in different forms of rehabilitation attended rehabilitation with different impairments and rehabilitation goals, which are partly considered in treatment and aftercare.

CLINICAL REHABILITATION IMPACT: To provide needs-based rehabilitation to different rehabilitation groups with Long COVID, knowledge of their health histories and preferences is necessary.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20.06.2024

Research Areas and Centers

  • Research Area: Center for Population Medicine and Public Health (ZBV)


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