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Effectiveness of a telerehabilitation program for COVID-19 survivors (TERECO) on exercise capacity, pulmonary function, lower limb muscle strength, and quality of life: a randomised controlled trial

By Jian'an Li, Wenguang Xia, Chao Zhan, Shouguo Liu, Zhifei Yin, Jiayue Wang, Yufei Chong, Chanjuan Zheng, Xiaoming Fang, Wei Cheng, Jan D. Reinhardt

Posted 09 Mar 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.08.21253007

Objectives To investigate superiority of a telerehabilitation program for Covid-19 (TERECO) over no rehabilitation with regard to functional exercise capacity, lower-limb muscle strength (LMS), pulmonary function, health-related quality of life (HRQOL), and perceived dyspnoea. Design Parallel-group randomised controlled-trial with 1:1 block-randomisation. Setting Three major hospitals from Jiangsu and Hubei provinces, China. Participants 120 Covid-19 survivors with modified Medical Research Council (mMRC) dyspnoea score of 2-3 who had been discharged from hospital were randomised. 61 were allocated to the control group and 59 to the TERECO group. Intervention The control group received educational instructions. The TERECO group participated in a 6-week home-based, pulmonary rehabilitation program delivered via smartphone and monitored with chest-worn heart rate telemetry. Exercise types comprised breathing control and thoracic expansion, aerobic exercise, and LMS exercise. Outcomes Primary outcome was 6-minute walking distance (6MWD) in metres. Secondary outcomes were LMS measured as squat time in seconds; pulmonary function assessed by spirometry with parameters being forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC), FEV1/FVC, maximum voluntary ventilation (MVV), and peak expiratory flow; HRQOL measured with SF-12 physical component score (PCS) and mental component score (MCS); and mMRC dyspnoea, favourable outcome (no dyspnoea). Outcomes were assessed at 6 weeks (post-treatment) and 28 weeks (follow-up). Results 120 patients were randomised, 15 (12.5%) were lost to follow-up at study endpoint. No serious adverse events occurred. 38 participants in the TERECO group complied with the exercise protocol (64.41% of randomized). The adjusted between-group difference in change in 6MWD from baseline was 65.45 metres (95% CI 43.8-87.1, p<0.001) at post-treatment and 68.62 metres (95% CI 46.39-90.85, p<0.001) at follow-up. Treatment effects for LMS were 20.12 seconds (95% CI 12.34-27.9, p<0.001) post-treatment and 22.23 seconds (95% CI 14.24-30.21, p<0.001) at follow-up. No group differences were found for lung function apart from post-treatment MVV (10.57 litres/minute, 95% CI 0.26-17.88, p=0.005). Increase in SF-12 PCS was greater in the TERECO group with treatment effects estimated as 3.79 (95% CI 1.24-6.35, p=0.004) at post-treatment and 2.69 (95% CI 0.06-5.32, p=0.045) at follow-up. No significant between-group differences were found for improvements in SF-12 MCS. At post-treatment 90.4% endorsed a favourable outcome for mMRC dyspnoea in the TERECO group vs. 61.7% in control (adjusted RR 1.46, 1.17-1.82, p=0.001). Conclusions This trial demonstrated superiority of TERECO over no rehabilitation for 6MWD, LMS, and SF-12 PCS. We found no persistent effects on pulmonary function, SF-12 MCS, and perceived dyspnoea. Trial registration: Chinese Clinical Trial Registry: ChiCTR2000031834, 11 Apr 2020, URL: http://www.chictr.org.cn/showproj.aspx?proj=52216

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