Newswise — Patients recovering from COVID-19 who had a course of physical therapy in the hospital had lower incidence of mortality compared to those who did not, according to a new study presented this week at the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting.

Although evidence shows that physical therapy (PT) improves mobility and probably mortality, many patients hospitalized for COVID-19 are not prescribed therapy. To understand PT’s potential impact on COVID-19 outcomes, researchers compared mortality incidence between patients who did and did not receive therapy.

“Therapy has proven to be a safe and effective way to decrease mortality risk, morbidity and quality of life. During COVID-19, many patients did not receive therapy because of staffing and PPE [personal protective equipment] shortages,” said Sandeep Yerra, MBBS, Research Fellow, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, at Montefiore Hospital. Through this study, we show that physical therapy improves the mortality outcomes in COVID-19 patients.”

The retrospective study included 1,314 patients admitted to a community-based, suburban hospital for COVID-19 between March 1 and May 31, 2020. Patients were separated into two study groups: those who received PT and those who did not. Researchers collected demographic data, code status, comorbidities, intubation status, length of hospital stay, and data on disposition and mortality.

They found some notable baseline differences between the two groups of patients. Patients who received PT tended to be older, with an average age of 74.04 compared to 60.63 for those who did not have therapy.

Patients who received therapy had more comorbidities and were also at a lower level of physical function prior to hospitalization compared to the non-PT group, said Dr. Yerra.

Only 48% of the PT patients were independent compared to 74% of the patients who did not have PT. Intubation rates were similar in both patient groups, about 11%.

When the researchers compared mortality rates between the two patient groups, there was a very surprising finding: COVID-19 patients who received PT in the hospital had a lower rate of mortality, or 12%, compared to 25% for patients who did not, despite being at a lower level of physical function before they contracted COVID-19, and having higher rates of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.

“Patients in the PT group in the study had less than half the mortality rate compared to the non-PT group. Physical therapy should be considered in the treatment paradigm of COVID-19 patients. It is a non-expensive, safe and effective treatment tool that should be considered in every COVID admission,” said Dr. Yerra.



The Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) is a professional society with a mission to create the future of academic physiatry through mentorship, leadership, and discovery. Its members are leading physicians, researchers, educators and in-training physiatrists from over 40 countries. The AAP holds an Annual Meeting, produces a leading medical journal in rehabilitation: AJPM&R, and leads a variety of programs and activities that support and enhance academic physiatry. On February 9-13, 2021, the AAP is hosting its first-ever virtual Annual Meeting, Physiatry ‘21. To learn more about the association, the specialty of physiatry and Physiatry ‘21, visit and follow us on Twitter at @AAPhysiatrists.


Meeting Link: Physiatry '21, February 2021