Long COVID rehab programme drastically improves quality of life 

Long COVID rehab programme drastically improves quality of life 
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A long COVID rehab programme, piloted by the University of Leeds, has shown impressive results for patients looking to reduce symptoms and increase activity levels.  

The long COVID rehab programme is based on a gradual or paced increase in a patient’s physical activity to improve symptoms and activity levels. Before the start of the programme, the participants were reporting on average three “crashes” a week where they were left physically, emotionally, or cognitively exhausted after mild physical or mental exertion. The programme aimed to minimise “crashes”. 

Long COVID causes respiratory symptoms that last an extended period of time. Long COVID sufferers continue to have symptoms of the infection and have reduced activity levels as a result of fatigue. 

The rehab programme was run by the long COVID service at Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust and evaluated by clinicians and scientists at the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University. The findings were published in the Journal of Medical Virology.  

Long COVID rehab programme is potentially a new treatment option 

The study included 31 people with long COVID who took part in the six-week study in Leeds. The participants, on average, had experienced long COVID for around 17 months before entering the long COVID rehab programme. They were suffering from a range of symptoms, including fatigue, brain fog, breathlessness, headache, and palpitations.  

The patients followed a gradual return to physical activity programme called the World Health Organization (WHO) CR-10 Borg pacing protocol, which takes them through five levels of activity. The programme was followed at home.  

The first phase is a preparation for return to activity and involves breathing exercises and gentle stretching. The fifth phase involves activities the patients were doing before they were ill such as regular exercise or sports.  

The patients had weekly phone calls from their long-COVID clinician to check on their progress during the long COVID rehab programme. They were advised to stay at each level for at least seven days and not overexert themselves, so their condition remained stable.  

Furthermore, the patients completed a questionnaire to assess their exertion levels and crashes each week before a decision was made on whether to progress to the next level of the pacing protocol, which was developed by WHO. 

In the next six weeks of the long COVID programme, there was a reduction of crashing episodes, but there were also improvements in activity level and quality of life. Moreover, symptoms eased with the largest benefits seen in fatigue, breathlessness and headaches. 

Two million people in the UK have long COVID

Data from the Office of National Statistics eludes that almost two million people in the UK have long COVID, with symptoms lasting over four weeks. The fatigue felt the following exertion can start from 12 to 48 hours after the activity, lasting for days and sometimes, even weeks. The researchers point out a lack of awareness remains among clinicians supporting long COVID patients that a paced or gradual return to physical activity could aid recovery.  

Writing in the journal, they noted: “This study adds to the current understanding by demonstrating the potential of a structured pacing protocol to gradually improve activity levels… Yet, current advice on safely returning to physical activity without worsening their symptoms is unclear, with patients reporting receiving differing advice from health care professionals.”   



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