Life After COVID-19: Treating Muscle Fatigue and Weakness
One thing is certain: COVID-19 affects people in different ways. The majority will experience mild to moderate symptoms, including a fever, a dry cough, and tiredness. Some will also have muscular aches and pains, a sore throat, a stomach upset, headaches, conjunctivitis, the loss of taste or smell, or a skin rash. An unfortunate one in five COVID-19 patients will develop more serious symptoms, including difficulty breathing, chest pain, loss of muscle control, severe inflammation, and organ damage.
While most people are fully aware of the severity of COVID-19, there has been less focus on its long-lasting impact. Four weeks after their initial diagnosis, many patients are still struggling with long-term COVID symptoms. These include:
Ongoing muscle weakness
In addition to their physical symptoms, many COVID-19 patients are finding life after COVID emotionally grueling. Recovering COVID-19 patients may experience debilitating mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, isolation, and dementia.
While anyone can experience the long-term symptoms of COVID-19, some people are particularly susceptible to the condition becoming known as “long COVID”:
People who are severely overweight or obese
People with high blood pressure
People with a pre-existing mental health condition
The good news is that while we still have a lot to learn about this new disease, early evidence suggests that many of these complications will improve with time. This is particularly true if patients receive prompt rehabilitative care during their recovery and work with a team that is specialized in COVID recovery. For people who experience severe or debilitating post-COVID fatigue, ongoing pulmonary issues, muscular weakness, or impairments to mood and well-being after recovering from a COVID-19 infection, rehab therapy can be highly effective.
Why Does COVID-19 Cause Muscular Weakness and Fatigue?
Research into COVID-19 is helping build a clearer picture of the impacts of the novel coronavirus on the body and the causes of long-term COVID-19 symptoms like weakness and fatigue.
If you have spent a long time in bed due to COVID-19, you may have lost significant muscle strength. This is particularly true for older people, who can lose over 10% of their muscle strength in just one week of bed rest. The muscles of the core and upper legs can atrophy quickly, making it difficult to sit up, walk, and even to breathe comfortably.
In addition to this process (also known as “deconditioning”), it seems that COVID-19 may also cause actual damage to the muscles. A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that rhabdomyolysis, the breakdown of muscle tissue, may be a side effect of COVID-19 in some patients.
Some COVID-19 “long-haulers,” as they have become known, experience post-COVID fatigue. Symptoms include severe exhaustion, “brain fog,” trouble with short-term memory, and much more. Post-COVID fatigue can simply be a normal response to a serious viral infection. The body has exhausted its resources fighting the coronavirus and needs time to rest and recovery. It could also be a continuing response to the COVID virus, even though you have recovered from the infection itself.
For some people, other factors add to the initial fatigue caused by COVID-19. For instance, if you have been unable to get out of bed, you may find that low levels of physical exercise and a disturbed daily routine have interrupted your sleep patterns, causing you to become even more tired. In addition, the anxiety and stress of dealing with a serious illness can make fatigue symptoms worse.
How Can Rehab Therapy Help with Muscle Weakness and Fatigue After COVID?
Your post-COVID rehab program will be customized to adapt to your individual needs and symptoms, but will probably include:
If you’re struggling with muscular weakness, physical therapy can help. During rehab, your physical therapist (PT) will develop a customized program of exercises that will help you rebuild your muscle strength, flexibility, and tone. The focus will be on performing basic daily activities to help you get back to normal life after COVID as quickly as possible. Depending on your current strength and range of motion, you might start by working on sitting up in bed unaided, standing up, walking, or walking up stairs.
This program of exercises will be progressive to make sure that you improve consistently but at a manageable pace. You will be closely supervised as you go through these exercises to make sure that you are not overdoing things. It is particularly important for COVID-19 patients not to push themselves too much, as over-exertion can cause increased fatigue and other setbacks. Your physical therapist will check your blood pressure, pulse, O2 stats, and heart rate before and after each therapy session to make sure that you remain safe and stable.
Occupational therapy will help you continue activities that you perform in your everyday life. This might involve getting dressed, making your own meals, or managing your medication. If you are struggling with brain fog or cognitive impairment as a result of post-COVID fatigue, then your occupational therapist will also help you work on mental training exercises to improve your mental abilities.
Mental Health Support
Long-term COVID-19 symptoms can be profoundly debilitating, physically and mentally. During a post-COVID recovery program, you should expect to receive counseling and support to help you deal with your symptoms and manage the stress and anxiety of recovering from such a serious illness. You may also receive advice on reducing fatigue by building healthy sleep habits and modifying your daily routine.
How Rehab Select Can Help You or Your Loved One Recover from COVID-19
At Summit Rehab at Mitchell Hollingsworth, we deliver individualized care plans that are designed specifically to help patients suffering from post-COVID fatigue and weakness or other lingering symptoms of a COVID-19 infection that have lasted four weeks or more.
Our team of physicians, nurse practitioner, physical and occupational therapists will design a comprehensive rehab program that targets all of your post-COVID symptoms.