The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that over 17 million people in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19. The majority of those infected have been able to eventually recover, researchers are beginning to understand that the effects of COVID-19 do not always stop when a patient has recovered from the acute illness. In fact, according to a recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, an estimated 10% of patients become “long-haulers.”
What is a Long-Hauler?
The term long-hauler is used to refer to the numerous people in the United States who have lingering or delayed symptoms from COVID-19. Though we are still learning about the long-term effects, early studies concluded that 50%-80% of patients studied continue to suffer from symptoms even after a subsequent viral test comes back negative for the virus. These symptoms commonly include cough, fatigue, joint and chest pain, brain fog, muscle weakness and numbness, headaches, depression and shortness of breath.
What is puzzling to physicians is that there is currently no way to predict who these long-haulers might be. For many other illnesses, those who spend time in intensive care with severe symptoms can expect to have lingering effects. But COVID-19 patients, many long-haulers initially experienced mild to moderate symptoms of the disease that did not require hospitalization.
Two groups of Patients:
It can not be predicted who is more likely to become a long-hauler, scientist are putting patients wo have persistent symptoms into two groups.
The first group are patients whose symptoms suggest permanent damage to their lunges, heart, brain or other organs. This damage may in turn affect the ability of their body to function normally. The second group continue to experience symptoms, but without apparent damage to vital organs. Unfortunately, as Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has reported, “ it can take months to a year or more to know whether lingering OCVID-19 symptoms could be a chronic illness.”
How can rehabilitation help?
People who are recovering from severe illness or who have long-haulers COVID, may require rehabilitation to manage the aftereffects of COVID -19. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , these could include:
- Lung damage
- Heart damage or inflammation, such as myocarditis or pericarditis
- Cognitive impairments that affect memory or concentration
- Conditions that affect the blood vessels, such as clotting
- Lasting effects from complications, such as heart attacks, stroke or pulmonary embolism
- Anxiety, depression, or trauma
- Muscle or joint pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle weakness due to the prolong rest
Some people may need physical rehabilitation to help them resume normal activities after staying in the hospital or following periods of prolong isolation.
Physical and Occupational therapy can help those with decreased strength begin to move more, gradually building up their stamina. Both therapies for hose recovering from COVID-19 aims to:
- Restore function to the muscles
- Reduce the likelihood of mental health conditions that may occur as a result of limited mobility
- Enable people to return to their normal lives
After someone leaves the hospital or is recovered from COVID-19, a physical therapist may recommend:
- Aerobic exercises to improve strength and endurance. As well as improve respiratory health.
- Low-intensity resistive training to improve muscle strength, walking and overall endurance.
- Balance training
- Specific breathing exercises
An Occupational therapist may recommend treatment for:
- Prioritizing the health and safety of both the patient and caregiver
- Developing care plans and interventions that address a patient’s specific daily functional needs
- Practicing appropriate provider self-care techniques to return to independence.
A Speech and Language Therapist may recommend treatment for:
- Swallowing difficulties and voice volume deficits, possibly due to intubation while in the hospital
- Cognitive and memory impairments (Brain Fog).
The expertise at The Recovery Project has the available therapies to help COVID long-haulers to return to independence and reach their ultimate quality of life.