Here for the long haul: the effects of (Long) COVID and what physiotherapy can do to help
With the COVID-19 case count rising in Ontario, as well as in the rest of the country, an increasing number of people are reporting persistent symptoms of COVID-19. Long COVID is a term created by patients living with on-going symptoms of COVID-19 that last longer than 4 weeks post infection. A survey performed in the UK suggests that 1 in 5 individuals will experience symptoms lasting longer than 5 weeks and 1 in 10 individuals will experience symptoms lasting longer than 12 weeks following an acute COVID-19 infection.
Signs and symptoms of Long COVID may include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, chest tightness, chest pain, brain fog, heart palpitations as well as increased heart rate among others. These symptoms may range in severity and can hinder an individual’s quality of life. Imagine not being able to brush your teeth or do dishes without imminent fatigue. Or not being able to go for a walk without shortness of breath or chest pain. These symptoms impact function and may make it challenging to perform activities of daily living as well as hobbies, physical activity or work. It is also important to note that the initial severity of COVID-19 symptoms do not necessarily correlate with the later effects of Long COVID. It is therefore difficult to predict which individuals will go on to live with these persistent symptoms of the disease.
Can Anything Be Done?
Nevertheless, there are many strategies that can be implemented to improve quality of life and function as individuals living with Long COVID recover. First off, pacing is crucial. When dealing with fatigue or post exertional malaise, as many of these people do, any physical, cognitive or emotional effort may cause the onset of symptoms. Returning to work or doing pre-COVID levels of activity may be challenging without the proper pacing strategies. Keeping a journal to track activities and symptoms may be a starting point to notice any trends. In addition to pacing, breathing exercises may also help to improve proper ventilation. Learning to breathe slowly and deeply into the abdomen as well as breathing through the nose can be helpful tips to consider. It is normal to feel alone but having the proper resources can help those living with Long COVID feel more supported. Speaking to a physiotherapist with knowledge on the subject can provide more guidance and support to those who need it.
First Steps To Consider
As every individual case is different, the proper course of treatment will vary for each person living with Long COVID. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to speak to a doctor to get properly assessed. An assessment and follow-up sessions with a physiotherapist will also aid in developing strategies to manage symptoms. This may include breathing exercises and re-education, symptom-based pacing strategies, cough control, relaxation techniques and realistic goal setting. Exercise may not be indicated for every individual and this will be evaluated and discussed within sessions. As this is a new disease with constant evolving information, the treatment will be a collaborative approach between you and your therapist.
Are you worried about yourself or a loved one having gone through the acute experience of COVID-19. Our Physiotherapists can help guide you, in that process. Please contact our office for more information.