The wide variety of problems associated with long COVID can make it difficult to treat it.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment, but there is increasing recognition of the importance of allied health professionals in providing treatment for people throughout various stages of COVID.
We are still learning about long COVID, but these experts can tailor exercise training, breathing techniques and ways to manage fatigue to help people get back to their normal roles and routines.
Long COVID should make us rethink how we support those with invisible conditions.
Long COVID and the body
Current evidence suggests that long COVID may cause a cascade of inflammatory and immune responses in the body.
The respiratory and autonomic system regulates functions such as heart rate, breathing and digestion, and this results in signs and symptoms across multiple body systems. Symptoms of long COVID include brain fog, fatigue, headaches, breathing difficulties and changes in taste and smell.
Estimates suggest between 5% and 50% of those who have been exposed to COVID go on to develop long COvid.
When does COVID become long? What happens in the body when symptoms persist? We've learned a lot so far.
The signs and symptoms of long COVID can be managed by Allied health professionals who are not doctors, dentists, nurses or midwives.
They are used to working with patients to develop strategies.
Exercise training is the most common treatment for long-term Covid. Studies show that exercise programs can help people with long COVID to reverse the effects of fatigue, muscle weakness, and exercise intolerance.
A program designed to help people with lung diseases is called pulmonary rehabilitation. People with long COVID are shown to be effective with such programs.
Not all exercise programs are suitable for everyone. A graded exercise program that progresses through different positions can be effective in improving exercise fitness and reducing fatigue for some people.
Range of motion exercises may be prescribed for joint and muscle pain. Other therapies such as falls prevention, muscle strengthening and balance training are suitable for people with reduced mobility due to long COVID.
It is important to seek advice from a doctor before you start exercising. Thorough assessment of your heart function and fatigue symptoms before returning to exercise is essential because symptoms can vary over time.
It can be hard to regain fitness after a COVID infection. Before you start exercising again, there are 5 things to keep in mind.
Breathing techniques and inspiratory muscle training
A common symptom of long COVID is shortness of breath, which can be managed by physiotherapists. People are taught how to do relaxed controlled breathing to recover from breathlessness.
People with long COVID feel the need to cough or clear their chest. Active cycle breathing technique can be useful.
Respiratory muscle training involves specific exercises. This often involves using a device that provides resistance.
This form of training is not beneficial to all sufferers.
When it comes to therapies for people with long COVID, it is important to consult a physiotherapist to find the best one for you.
Breathing exercises are not helpful for everyone.
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Fatigue management and other treatments
Both occupational therapists and physiotherapists can help people with long COVID manage their symptoms and participate in work and daily life.
They might help plan a daily routine to deal with fatigue, or develop strategies to enhance or compensate for poor attention and memory.
Other health professionals can help with recovery. Non-drug treatments may be offered by psychologists. Speech pathologists can help someone with a hoarse voice.
People with long COVID might benefit from functional goals and strategies.
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How to get help for long COVID?
If you have long COVID, you should ask your doctor to refer you to a multidisciplinary program where different types of health professionals work together, or to someone with your symptoms.
The most effective way to manage people with long COVID is through multidisciplinary programs. There are clinics in Australia that provide monitoring and treatment. There is an urgent need to establish more of them.
Many symptoms improve with time. You may be able to recover more quickly with the help of a therapist.
The authors wish to acknowledge the contribution of a senior physiotherapist in the intensive care unit at a hospital.