While the evolution of current COVID variants are less likely to cause critical illness, they have still been recognized as highly contagious. In fact, studies show that nearly 53% of patients struggle with symptoms for up to 12 months after infection – a year of constant sickness that can be life-altering! So, with variants and strains like Omicron or Delta, it’s very possible to see a rise in long-term COVID patients in the upcoming future.

What Is Long COVID?

People who suffer with symptoms for over 4 weeks are often referred to as Long COVID, Long-Haul COVID or Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome (PACS) patients. Thankfully, most of those with Long COVID are not experiencing constant raging fevers and fluid-filled lungs – instead, patients with persistent symptoms report chronic fatigue, chronic pain, physical exhaustion and “brain fog” or a lack in mental clarity. In addition to these post COVID conditions, Stanford Healthcare reports the following symptoms are possible as well:

  • Cardiovascular issues such as chest pain, palpitations and difficulty performing activities at your previous ability. 
  • Respiratory problems like a change or loss of smell or taste, shortness of breath and a persistent cough.
  • Neurological symptoms including difficulties with concentrating, memory loss, headaches, numbness or tingling sensations and dizziness.
  • Gastrointestinal issues such as loss of appetite, diarrhea and nausea.
  • Psychological symptoms including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychosis with delusions or hallucinations.
  • Hematologic issues such as blood clots.
  • Endocrine problems resulting in diabetes or worsening existing diabetes.
  • Skin issues including rashes, hives or red swollen hands and feet.
  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in adults (MIS-A), a potentially serious condition that hosts fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and extreme exhaustion.

Therapy And Rehabilitation For Long COVID

While on-going studies are still working on how to resolve Long COVID, both physical and occupational therapists can offer plans of care to improve quality of life for those afflicted.

Physical Therapy

For long haulers dealing with chronic pain, physical therapy is proving to be an excellent source of relief. As with any condition that leaves a patient bed-bound, when joints are not used, they begin to lose their natural lubrication which results in pain and difficulty moving. However, with a dedicated treatment plan, physical therapists can work with individuals to safely restore function and manage pain.

Common long-term effects of COVID also include impaired breathing, either as a result of scarred tissue or general fatigue. While therapy may not be able to restore internal lung damage, physical therapists can help reduce pulmonary stress via aerobic exercises and diaphragmatic techniques.

Occupational Therapy

Chronic fatigue affects everyone differently! While some individuals are still able to manage their home and work life, others may be impaired to the point where they can’t even get out of bed. In fact, many patients who choose to push through the exhaustion, risk worsening their condition further. This is where occupational therapy is essential in helping individuals learn how to function within their new limitations and potentially enable more severely afflicted patients to return to work. Here are some examples of how an occupational therapist could approach a patient with chronic fatigue: 

  • Manage restorative rest through meditation and breathing exercises
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety
  • Create a nourishing meal plan that focuses on providing and replenishing energy as well as managing low energy levels while digesting
  • Promote good sleep hygiene to ensure restorative rest
  • Regulate mental wellbeing and mood by reintroducing hobbies or social interests 
  • Slowly build activity levels after establishing healthy habits

Pediatric Therapy

There is a theory that children are considerably less affected by COVID because younger children do not have many ACE2 receptors, the protein that gives entry to the coronavirus. This has been an enormous relief for many, especially since COVID vaccinations for children are still controversial.

On the other hand, the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital reports that they’re seeing three times as many Long COVID patients, so much so that they have created the Children’s Post-COVID Comprehensive Care Program in response.

Interestingly, the symptoms of Long Covid in children does not seem to perfectly mirror the issues that adults face. Children generally do not experience neurological issues to the same severity and instead mostly report physical fatigue or pain.

Check out these multiple support groups dedicated to raising awareness as well as pushing for more resources regarding pediatric occupational therapy and pediatric physical therapy.

Being Proactive: Telehealth And Social Distancing

While the Centers for Disease Control has been lessening quarantine and mask mandates, the effects of COVID should continue to be taken seriously. Just like with any illness, prevention and early intervention, such as vaccinations and social distancing, are key to preventing not only sickness, but managing potential life-changing symptoms as well.

Here at Raintree Systems, we understand the importance of pursuing continuity of care and communication. By offering providers the efficiency tools they need to empower more personalized patient experiences, our technology-enabled solutions strive to humanize healthcare through COVID and beyond.