As part of a new rehabilitation technique, patients recovering from Covid-19 are being offered a walking test to aid a faster and better recovery.

The walking test allows physiotherapists to prescribe individual exercise plans, based on a patient’s fitness and abilities. The plans are therefore able to meet a person’s specific needs, rather than being generalised to a wider group.

Further reading: 

The test has recently been introduced at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT) and is predominantly used for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, more recently it has been used for patients who are recovering from Covid-19.

More than 70% of patients have seen an improvement in their exercise capacity 

The incremental shuttle walking test is considered to be best practice and is in line with British Thoracic Society guidelines. It is similar to the bleep test, but is at a much slower, walking pace.

The patients are asked to walk from one end of the room to another, until they are too fatigued to carry on or can no longer keep up with the beeps. The number of shuttles is then recorded in order for the physiotherapists to gain an understanding of their fitness levels and measure improvement.

When the test was first introduced, it aimed for more than 58% of patients to see an improvement in their exercise capacity within a six-week period. However, now, more than 70% of patients at KCHFT have seen an improvement.

This means the service at KCHFT is now exceeding the national average (60%) for patients who demonstrate an improvement in their exercise tolerance following a course of pulmonary rehabilitation.

The services provides additional motivation for patients and carers 

Sixty-nine-year-old Carol Holt saw her walking test ability go from 40 metres at the start of her rehab, to 190 metres six weeks later. Anything more than 50 metres is considered to be a significant improvement.

Carol, 69, has COPD and was referred to the team after a hospital admission for a chest infection. She subsequently caught COVID and then had pneumonia, which further impacted her chest. She said: “[The test] has really helped me. At the beginning, I could barely walk or stand. I’d lost a lot of confidence. The team coached me and encouraged me and I’m so pleased with the results.”

Kate Savage, clinical lead physiotherapist who has led the project, said the evidence of improvement that the service provides brings additional motivation for patients as well as their carers. She added: “The project led to efficiency, due to the shorter time needed to conduct the incremental shuttle walk test. This should help to reduce waiting times for patients accessing the service.”