Patients with chronic respiratory conditions such as Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) often have difficulty with their activities of daily living due to shortness of breath. If you have been newly diagnosed with a chronic respiratory condition or suffer from other conditions such as pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis, or have upcoming lung surgery your health care provider may have suggested Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR). Like other respiratory conditions, COVID-19 can cause respiratory complications and lasting lung damage. Some people may also develop “long COVID,” which occurs when COVID-19 symptoms linger for weeks or months after acquiring the initial infection. Some people refer to this group as “long haulers.”
What is Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR)?
Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR) is a comprehensive rehabilitation program designed specifically for patients with lung disease that has been shown to improve quality of life and relieve shortness of breath. PR is a two-step program that includes education and exercise to help you learn more about your lungs and your disease.
Your rehab team will often include:
- Respiratory therapist
- Physical therapist
- Exercise Specialist
Overall, you will learn how to manage your breathing problems, increase your energy, and decrease your breathlessness. Typically, a PR program will be offered in a group setting, allowing you the opportunity to meet others suffering from similar conditions. A community environment allows you to speak with others with similar lung problems, get useful tips, and discuss topics that arise when dealing with a chronic condition.
What is the role of PR in the Treatment of COVID-19?
Some people who recover from COVID-19 may need pulmonary rehabilitation to help them resume normal activities after staying in the hospital, or following periods of prolonged isolation. Pulmonary rehabilitation can help those with decreased strength begin to move more, gradually building up their stamina. PR for those recovering from COVID-19 can help:
- Restore function to the muscles;
- Reduce the likelihood of mental health conditions that may occur as a result of limited mobility; and
- Enable people to return to their normal lives.
Step ONE: Education
PR programs help patients to improve their exercise capacity which helps them get back to daily life. The education portion of the program will help you gain a better understanding on how to best manage your breathing problems so that your breathing is not in charge of you. You will also learn things such as how to pace your breathing with your activities, take your medications, and what questions to ask your healthcare provider.
Step TWO: Exercise
Step TWO is the exercise component. PR provides education on breathing techniques to help you cope with the symptom of breathlessness The exercise program is led by the PR staff; they will monitor you as you exercise to ensure your safety. The exercises are designed for your specific needs and will start at a level that you can handle. The amount of time you exercise will be increased in time and the level of difficulty will change based on your ability. As your muscles get stronger, you will be able to exercise longer, be less tired, and have less shortness of breath.
What you learn during PR should be used throughout life to avoid hospitalizations, complications, and other issues. Most importantly, it provides a support system by allowing patients to meet other people with the same experience. Pulmonary Rehabilitation forms an integral part of the comprehensive care of patients with respiratory conditions. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. People recovering from COVID-19 should also seek help if their symptoms are severe or suddenly worsen.