COVID-19 has affected millions of people around the world causing respiratory and physical dysfunction. With a variety of symptoms coming to the surface, even people who have experienced mild symptoms may take some time to regain their physical condition and exercise capacity.
The prolonged rest and lack of mobility experienced by some patients can lead to physical deconditioning, resulting in long-term cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal complications and repercussions.
This would also apply to hospitalize and intensive care patients who spend most of their time without physical activity and much of their time in a resting state.
Therefore, experts in the field suggest that physical therapy is the ideal ally for people suffering from respiratory, muscular, cardiovascular, cognitive, and emotional complications and those who have been on prolonged bed rest.
Before starting physical therapy, a previous evaluation of each patient should be carried out to adapt it to the capabilities and limitations of each case. This may include exercises (aerobic, resistance, and strength) that the patient can perform according to their symptomatology.
A study shows quantitative and qualitative data suggesting physical therapy’s benefits on patients with COVID-19, specifically with the respiratory system. Treatment included aerobic exercise, resistance training, balance training, breathing training, ADL training, and keeping the airway clear. The study showed treatment of the lungs and respiratory system, which is the root cause of the further complications of COVID-19, can help with much more. Treating the respiratory system reduces ICU admissions and lengths of stay (by 20%) and can reduce the mortality rate.
Some other benefits are:
To achieve physical conditioning.
Prevent the progression of muscle loss.
Strengthen muscle mass, especially the peripheral musculature.
Reduce fatigue and shortness of breath (dyspnea). Restore the ability to walk, climb and descend stairs without fatigue.
Maintain or increase lung capacity.
Strengthen muscles and breathing.
Improve blood circulation.
Promote emotional health. Control anxiety.
Improve the quality of life and accelerate the patient’s reintegration into their daily life and work.
Before starting therapy sessions, the patient’s vital signs, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure should be checked. It is important to mention that the exercise program should be avoided if the patient presents with:
Choking sensation or shortness of breath.
Muscle and joint pain.
Exercises may include:
- Respiratory control by performing prolonged inhalations.
- Diaphragmatic breathing.
- Muscle stretching to improve range of motion.
- Passive joint movements.
- Walking at a normal or fast pace or going up and downstairs.
- If the patient is on bed rest, a change of position is recommended (also prevents the development of bedsores).
The time employed will vary according to the physical capacity of the individual, usually 30 minutes (can be less or more) per session, 3-5 days a week.
It should be taken into account that due to the wide variety of symptoms that can be triggered by COVID-19, the different previous pathologies/associated comorbidities, and the wide age range among patients, each program must be developed from an individualized approach so that the desired results can be achieved without triggering an adverse effect due to overexertion.
In addition, the sooner physical therapy begins, the more effective the patient’s recovery will be.