By: Karen Hayter, DPT
Most people fully recover from COVID-19 within a few weeks of illness. For some, they can continue to experience symptoms after their initial recovery. These symptoms can linger for weeks to months beyond what is considered the normal timeline for recovery. People with these symptoms are being described as COVID “long-haulers” and this has led to the term Long COVID. Individuals who have experienced both mild and severe COVID-19 symptoms can develop Long COVID and researchers estimate that around 10% of COVID-19 patients become long-haulers. At this time, Long COVID is unpredictable and research is evolving.
The most common lasting symptoms include, but are not limited to:
Fatigue or weakness.
Shortness of breath.
Muscle or joint pain.
Poor endurance or no ability to exercise.
Anxiety or depression.
Fast or pounding heartbeat.
Brain fog or memory issues.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
The goal of physical therapy is to improve the patient’s tolerance to daily and recreational activities by improving their fatigue, cardiac endurance, and respiratory function. This is done with education on activity management and pacing, prescribed movement and exercises, and monitoring of heart rate with activity. Physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapy assistants (PTAs) can closely monitor a person’s response to exercise to ensure treatment is beneficial and not making symptoms worse. There is little to no published research on rehabilitation for Long COVID at this time. Physical therapists can use their knowledge and treatment plans from other diseases and conditions to help develop an evidence-based plan of care.
Physical Therapy is one of many disciplines to help manage Long COVID symptoms. It is essential patients have a multi-disciplinary approach to assess and manage their symptoms.
If you have symptoms of Long COVID, we ask that you are medically cleared by your primary care provider before being evaluated by a physical therapist. Exercise may not be appropriate for everyone living with Long COVID