Now that the pandemic has switched its focus from containment to living with this new virus it is time to look at the effects of post-COVID Symptoms otherwise known as Long COVID.
What is Long COVID?
Most people will recover from a COVID infection within a few weeks to a month. While others can have persistent symptoms for weeks to months afterward. If your symptoms have continued for greater than 12 weeks then this is called Long COVID.
What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms will vary between people and the actual variant that you were infected with. Long COVID symptoms can include:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Fatigue, headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Joint and muscle pain
- Pins and needles
Research suggests that there are two main patterns of long COVID:
1) Fatigue, headaches, and upper respiratory issues, and;
2) Multi-system issues including fevers and GI indications.
Can you test for it?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
What can a physio do to help?
The two biggest symptoms that impact a lot of people are shortness of breath and post-exertion symptoms. Your physiotherapist can help you work out a program that you can manage and show you how to progress and when to let your body rest.
If you have lived a busy life pre-COVID then learning when to rest can be a hard lesson. If you haven’t heard the term before it is about breaking a task up into more manageable pieces. For example, if making dinner is too taxing on your body, you might prep the veggies and have a rest, prep the meat and have a rest, put it together, and have a rest. In other words, don’t try doing everything all in one go.
As your energy improves and you get back into the swing of life, you need to learn to listen to your body better than before. Pushing through to get things done could very well see you laid up for weeks recovering. It appears that the post-exertion symptoms from Long COVID can be evident days after the actual exertion so pacing can be a very important tool to learn.
Because changes with Long COVID can be slow, it is recommended to keep an activity diary. This can help you find patterns that cause a flare-up, but more importantly, can show you your progress as well.
This is probably the most important part of your recovery – getting the right exercise for you. If they are too hard you will feel worse after doing them and will stop, too easy and you will feel like they are doing nothing. It needs to be a gradual increase in loading, with information on when to push a little and when to slow down, especially if you have post-exertional symptoms. Unfortunately, this is not something that you can google and get a recipe for, everyone will be very different with what their body can handle and how quickly they can progress.
There are a lot of exercises that you can actually do laying down to conserve your energy. Your physiotherapist can help you find the appropriate exercises and the right dosing. All of your recovery exercises should not make any of your symptoms worse following exercise or in the following couple of days.
A lot of people don’t know that there are a lot of different ways to breathe. Breathing exercises can help your lungs recover post-COVID. A basic relaxed breathing exercise can be done in what you find a comfortable position. Your breathing should be effortless and quiet.
- Place your hands on top of or around the sides of your stomach
- Keep your mouth closed throughout
- Breathe in gently through your nose and feel your stomach rise/expand
- You don’t have to breathe all the way in
- As you exhale, just let the air leave your lungs gently; you don’t have to push or force the air out. Feel tension release as you breathe out
- Repeat for one minute
- Try it in different positions
Being able to set realistic goals may be harder when you have Long COVID as the recovery is slow and often a bit like a roller coaster. Having someone else help with the goals and expectations can be helpful to minimise flare-ups of symptoms and hopefully smooth out your roller coaster ride.
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to recover from Long COVID, however, there is new research coming out all the time and your physiotherapist will be keeping up to date with this and can pass on the knowledge to you.
Last of all, be gentle with yourself. We are all learning about this new condition and recovery will take time.
Book an appointment
If you have been cleared of any cardiac issues due to Long COVID and would like some help with recovery, call the Vitalis Physiotherapy team on 0410 559 856 to book an appointment with our highly experienced team.
For more information, please see our FAQs or contact the clinic.