Recovering From COVID-19: Importance of Physical Therapy Treatment

COVID-19 has had a lasting effect on the health and wellness of people across the age spectrum, whether by contracting the virus and dealing with persistent symptoms, or indirectly through the effects from inactivity while quarantined and working from home. Physical therapy has been established as a primary resource to aid in recovery of function and to avoid prolonged symptoms in those that are in recovery from COVID-19.

For those that have been able to avoid contracting COVID-19 by avoiding social gatherings and working from home, the primary goal of physical therapy is to establish a normal movement routine to combat the negative effects of inactivity. As research has shown, regular physical activity improves muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, and maintains mobility. A routine of movement also enhances a body’s mental status by reducing depression as well as improving mental acuity. These benefits combine for a powerful effect of decreasing risk for contracting illnesses, including COVID-19. Additionally, many people no longer feel comfortable utilizing their gym or group fitness locations due to social distancing concerns. In this case, physical therapists can help design safe exercise plans using at-home equipment or body weight to maintain fitness in the interim.

During recovery following COVID-19, patients incur weakness, loss of muscle fibers, decreased oxygenation of muscle tissue, and decreased exercise tolerance. Symptoms can vary across the board, from minimal symptoms to significant limitations, and are dependent on severity of the illness they incurred. CEP uses cutting edge technology for diagnostics and treatment for this patient population, focusing on Heart Rate Variability (HRV) diagnostics and the use of NEUBIE direct current neuromuscular stimulation to increase muscle strength and endurance.

Case Study:

Patient is a 64 year old male who contracted COVID-19 while traveling in early 2020. Patient presented to CEP in August 2020 for overall deconditioning secondary to COVID-19. He was on 4L of oxygen therapy, with a resting oxygen saturation of 93% (normal 95-100%). Due to fatigue levels, patient was unable to perform normal daily activities without increase in shortness of breath and increased fatigue. Time spent in acute recovery caused patient to lose 25 pounds since date of diagnosis due to muscle wasting. Patient was evaluated in our office and goals were set to address limitations in endurance and strength in order to return patient to normal function and playing golf to improve overall quality of life.

Patient’s initial heart rate variability diagnostics indicated severe reliance on sympathetic nervous system and an overall “stress state” in the body. HRV also determined patient’s “biological age”- or the progression of age based on stress to the body in his current state- to be 73 years of age. This is 9 years older than his chronological age of 64 years old, indicating negative impact due to persistent “fight or flight” status. He was started on a regimen of muscle strengthening while using the NEUBIE to accelerate muscle activation and improve cardiorespiratory endurance.

Two weeks following start of care, patient began to exhibit positive progress with strength, function, and respiration, with decreasing reliance on supplemental oxygen. HRV report indicated significant improvement in overall health score, most notably in decreased “fight or flight” system dominance and improved variability in brain waves. He also decreased his biological age to 67 years old, just 3 years over his chronological age. Refer to photos with side-by-side comparison to initial and follow up HRV scores. Upon discharge from physical therapy, patient was no longer reliant on oxygen and had returned to playing golf on regular schedule without fatigue.

COVID-19 has created a public health crisis that has affected the entire population in one way or another, forcing a focus shift to promoting individual health and wellness to avoid long term impacts of chronic diseases or acute illnesses. Whether it is in the hospital or in an outpatient setting, physical therapy plays an integral role in mitigating the negative impacts of COVID-19. CEP is proud to serve our community by promoting optimal health with use of innovative technologies.

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