Coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19, is caused by a contagious virus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. There is ongoing research about the lasting side effects of COVID-19, often referred to as "long COVID," "post COVID conditions," or PASC, which stands for post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2. People who experience it are sometimes called long haulers.
Long COVID is broadly defined as signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after COVID-19 infection, and that are present four weeks or more after the initial illness. Long COVID presents a serious threat to health and function — for some, long after the infection is gone. It can last weeks, months, or even years.
Researchers estimate that nearly 1 in 5 adults who've had COVID-19 — even those with mild cases — develop long COVID. Those with more severe cases, or who needed intensive care, may develop post-intensive care syndrome. These patient groups need a highly personalized plan of care that includes working with a physician and a physical therapist. Treatment for symptoms that linger after COVID-19 is not simple, and recovery can take a long time.
The American Physical Therapy Association's latest public service announcement aims to increase public awareness about physical therapy's role in managing symptoms that make it difficult to manage everyday life: Physical Therapy — The Solution for Many Physical Challenges, Including Long COVID
Why See a Physical Therapist?
Physical therapists can help improve many deficits resulting from the virus or lengthy bed rest. The goal of physical therapy for long COVID is to help people safely return to their home, work, and other activities as much as possible.
Physical therapists empower people to achieve more movement. Doing the recommended amount of physical activity can reduce your risk for chronic diseases. One study suggests that physically active people have lower odds for severe problems and death from COVID-19. Physical therapy for people recovering from COVID-19 can help restore muscle function and benefit mental health. Research also shows that physical activity reduces the risk of anxiety and depression, as cited in HHS guidelines on physical activity.
Physical therapists work with patients who have COVID-19 in the hospital or intensive care unit to reduce problems. After the initial illness, they provide treatment and services to help people with or without long COVID regain their:
- Cardiovascular endurance.
Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To find a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.
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