TULSA, Okla. — Patients who have had COVID-19 can take months or even years to feel like they are fully recovered.
Utica Park Clinic family medicine Doctor Emily Grewe-Nelson states that COVID patients recovering from home can experience chronic fatigue, headaches that can increase after having COVID and insomnia. For COVID patients requiring treatment in the ICU, on ventilators for long amounts of time or even needing ECMO, a life support system, the full recovery process can be a lot longer.
“Those people are going to have a lot of what’s called deconditioning, which is essentially they’ve been, you know, in an ICU bed for so long their muscles are not as strong as they were. Just, you know, doing your normal everyday things so physical therapy can be really helpful in helping those,” said Doctor Grewe-Nelson.
Rachel Stinson is a physical therapist at FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Center in Tulsa. She says she has seen an increase in clients during the pandemic, looking to improve the affects of COVID through physical therapy.
“I’d say weakness and deconditioning are associated with some of the most common issues we address with people after COVID-19, you know the chronic fatigue and joint pain,” said Stinson. “It’s like hey how do I get back to my life to me and that’s what we deal with. And I think that that’s where you’ve got to start.”
Doctor Grewe-Nelson also states that there can also be neurological issues that can come up after COVID.
“Often, it makes it so that it’s hard to really regain balance. Neuropathy sometimes manifests as numbness, particularly in the feet, but can happen in the hands too. It could also manifest as nerve pain, which can be like a stinging sensation or like a sharp burning sensation in the feet at the hands and that,” explained Doctor Grewe-Nelson. “If you think about how much feedback you get from your feet when you’re walking, if that’s taken away, that can cause quite a bit of issues. It can cause falls, you might be dragging one foot and that can cause you to trip and fall.”
According to Doctor Grewe-Nelson, balance training and physical training can be tremendously beneficial for those people who have the neuropathy issues and it can help retrain the lower extremities so that they’re less likely to have the incident where they trip and fall. For COVID patients who have been in the hospital for long periods of time, muscles are going to start atrophy, which means they start to weaken. Physical therapy can work to help create strength back into those muscles.
As a physical-therapist, Stinson has worked with clients to treat the physical impacts of neuropathy. She also adds that the mental and emotional toll that can potentially impact COVID patients, and should be looked at in recovery as well. Working with a physical therapist can also help individuals work through the mental and emotional blocks they may be struggling with, according to Stinson.
“It’s not just about healing the person physically. It’s about you mentally being there as well. And I think that is something that people often neglect in a lot of areas of healthcare,” states Stinson. “I think COVID-19 is a big one. I think there’s an emotional and cognitive component to it, and it really emphasizes the emotional and dealing with the mental. There’s a huge part of you know, motivation. If you’re stressed or fearful, or just plain depressed, it’s going to play a role in how you heal and recover, and that can’t go ignored.”
Stinson says if you still are experiencing lingering COVID symptoms four to twelve weeks after you had COVID, physical therapy can be an effective way to move forward in attaining a full recovery.
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