PolyU: Research reveals over 40% of COVID-19 survivors still suffer from fatigue syndrome after one year; PolyU develops “Rehab 8 Forms” programme to aid post-COVID recovery

After two years of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested that while most people who have developed COVID-19 will fully recover, some may experience a variety of post-COVID symptoms months after their recovery, including breathlessness, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction and more, with these mid- to long-term effects being collectively known as “long COVID.”

Funded by the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) of the Food and Health Bureau, HKSAR Government in 2020, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s (PolyU) research team from the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences conducted prospective research to assess the physical fitness, psychosocial functions and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in COVID-19 patients after recovery, as well as assessing their changes in the “3Rs”, namely “Rebuild fitness”, “Regain confidence” and “Resume normal life”.

Commencing their research in October 2020, the research team followed up with the recovery status of COVID-19 patients referred from five local hospitals in the 6th and 12th months after diagnosis. Researchers evaluated their cardiorespiratory function, physical fitness, fatigue level and quality of life by leveraging face-to-face meetings and online means, making use of specific assessment tests. The research team found that more than 40% of the 118 COVID-19 survivors who participated in the research were still suffering from the symptoms of “long COVID” including fatigue and lower limb muscle weakness, 6 and 12 months after diagnosis from COVID-19, posing a negative impact to their daily life. Below are the key findings:

6 months after diagnosis: about 42% experienced fatigue syndrome;

12 months after diagnosis: about 43% still experienced fatigue syndrome;

No significant changes in Fatigue Score in the 6th and 12th months post COVID diagnosis (i.e. no improvement over time);

The fatigue level of the assessed subjects was related to lung capacity and lower limb strength;

Fatigue syndrome exists in adults, as well as in elderlies;

50% of the female assessed subjects experienced fatigue syndrome, while only 30% of the male assessed subjects had the same syndrome.

Professor Amy Fu, Peter Hung Professor in Pain Management, Associate Head of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences of PolyU, who led the research, said, “Most COVID-19 survivors think they have recovered from the illness and do not pay attention to the fatigue symptoms, or think the symptoms will be alleviated over time. It is only after conducting various assessments that they realised that their fatigue symptoms were related to insufficient cardiopulmonary function and weak lower limb muscles. With appropriate rehabilitation programmes in place, their condition can be reversed.”

3R Rehabilitation Programme
To help COVID-19 survivors regain their health, a PolyU research team has developed a 6-week physical training programme. Under the guidance of PolyU physiotherapists, survivors will undergo two training sessions (60 mins each) and three home exercise sessions (30 mins each) to improve their lung capacity and muscle strength through different forms of fitness exercise. Upon completion of the 6-week training, the study indicates that the lung capacity and lower limb strength of the majority of the 24 participants improved, and their fatigue level also improved. Below are the key findings:

About 70% of the survivors showed improvement in their lung capacity;

More than 60% of the survivors showed improvement in their lower limb strength;

Among those who were suffering from fatigue syndrome, three quarters have returned to normal

The physical training programme features “Rehab 8 Forms” designed by a PolyU research team. It consists of eight different movements to train various muscle groups and improve cardiorespiratory and muscle performance. Dr Arnold Wong, Associate Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences of PolyU, said, “the ‘Rehab 8 Forms’ is an easy-to-follow exercise; each set will take about 8 to 10 minutes to complete. One can make adjustments to the pace and progress according to their own physical condition, in order to gradually improve their fitness, so as to achieve the 3R objectives – Rebuild fitness, Regain confidence and Resume normal life.” Dr Wong added that both COVID-19 survivors and those who are spending more time at home due to the pandemic can practice “Rehab 8 Forms” to maintain their wellbeing.

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