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Monday 6 September 2021 2:22pm

As more about the effects of long COVID is learnt, it is apparent that cardio-respiratory physiotherapists have an essential role in helping people recover from the virus, a University of Otago physiotherapy specialist says.

Sarah Rhodes image
Dr Sarah Rhodes.

Dr Sarah Rhodes is a cardio-respiratory physiotherapist, a Lecturer at the University of Otago's School of Physiotherapy and Secretary of the Physiotherapy New Zealand Cardio-Respiratory Special Interest Group (CRSIG).

She explains that internationally cardio-respiratory physiotherapists have been essential workers providing vital care in intensive care units throughout the COVID‑19 pandemic.

“Physiotherapy is a very close-knit community here and globally. We've been keeping tabs on what is happening overseas and seeing the emergence of people who have had COVID, appeared to have recovered and then relapsed, or have never really recovered fully,” Dr Rhodes says.

“We are recognising some of the effects of long COVID symptoms as being really common, such as fatigue, breathlessness, and muscle weakness.

“If you are a person who is suffering the symptoms of long COVID, contact your nearest cardio-respiratory physiotherapist because we can help with those symptoms or ask your GP to refer you.”

Broadly speaking, cardio-respiratory physiotherapists treat people with conditions affecting the heart and lungs. This area of practice includes working in intensive care units, surgical wards, and rehabilitation clinics, as well as in the community treating patients with chronic respiratory and other long-term conditions.

Dr Rhodes and the rest of the CRSIG committee has been hard at work behind the scenes throughout the various phases and levels of COVID‑19.

“We started off working on a COVID response to meet the needs of our CRSIG members. There was basically a lack of understanding of the procedures that physiotherapists perform with patients in an acute hospital setting, so people didn't appreciate the risk involved and the type of Personal Protective Equipment required to do our work safely,” Dr Rhodes explains.

“On behalf of our members, we collaborated with the Ministry of Health to develop national guidelines for respiratory physiotherapy and for rehabilitation for those with COVID‑19.

“We're a small group who work well as a team and it was really satisfying to see what we could achieve and the difference we could make.”

In anticipation of the huge rehabilitation burden if COVID‑19 gains a foothold in communities, the CRSIG has also developed and distributed a range of advisory materials to general practitioners and non-governmental organisations.

The team has reviewed and communicated a large amount of emerging COVID‑19 research data and findings to its nationwide membership.

“Cardio-respiratory physiotherapists are proud to be working from admission to rehabilitation. We're here for you through COVID‑19,” says Dr Rhodes.

Long COVID and physiotherapy is the focus of this year's World Physiotherapy Day on 8 September.

For more information, contact:

Dr Sarah Rhodes
School of Physiotherapy
Division of Health Sciences
University of Otago

Antonia Wallace
Communications Adviser, External Engagement
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 4144

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