COVID-19 has been associated with a litany of symptoms, with severities that vary greatly from one person to another. Even for some of those who experienced mild symptoms, it can take a while to feel like yourself again. In cases of severe symptoms, a patient could be stuck at home, bed-ridden or even hospitalized for weeks as they recover. Rehabilitation from the damage done by the disease is often compounded by the effects of prolonged inactivity.
We spoke with Erica Noel, a physical therapist with Banner Physical Therapy in Phoenix, AZ, about the important role that physical therapy can play in recovery. For most, at-home exercises will be enough. But for others, a clinic-based plan will be the best chance back to normalcy.
Why might in-person physical therapy be necessary?
“Weakness and deconditioning are among the most common issues we address with people after COVID-19,” said Noel. “A physical therapist (PT) can calculate a target heart rate and then monitor the patient’s heart rate to ensure that they are exercising within their tolerance.” She also mentioned pain and stiffness as common lingering effects – symptoms that can be monitored and improved in the clinic. Here are four key reasons why a clinic-based plan could be best for you.
Calculating and monitoring your heart rate is just one example of how a PT can help you recover. As you are getting your strength back, it can be very easy to overexert yourself. A physical therapist will recommend specific exercises and rep counts to make sure that you are within a range that is safe and effective for you. Your PT is an expert in every piece of exercise equipment in their clinic and will be able to think creatively to build a plan that’s right for you. Some patients after being immobile also develop stiffness or pain. Physical therapists can employ hands-on manual techniques to assist with pain and stiffness.
Your post-COVID workout plans won’t be the same as they were before. Having a PT at your side will make sure that you’re challenging yourself with the right exercises and difficulties.
Especially during the pandemic, safe access to high quality training equipment will be limited. Noel mentioned free weights, treadmills and stationary bikes as key pieces of equipment for many patients recovering from COVID-19. But she added that most plans will include other machines and equipment that people simply don’t have on-hand.
Your physical therapy plan will likely change from one week to the next. As you get stronger, your PT will make small adjustments to make sure you are challenging yourself in a safe and effective way. Likewise, having an expert by your side will ensure that you aren’t pushing through an exercise plan that puts you at risk.
Noel advised, “For some patients, working on balance activities at home simply isn’t safe. Many patients may be at a high risk for falling after COVID-19. Physical therapists are trained to guard or assist patients when they lose their balance to make sure they don’t fall.”
How to know if physical therapy is right for you
Noel discussed how a person might know that physical therapy could be necessary. “Anytime a patient feels they are not ‘back to normal’ within two weeks after their symptoms subside, they likely could benefit from the assistance of a physical therapist.” Expert assistance can help you return to your prior level of function as quickly and safely as possible.
How to know your clinic is safe
When selecting a physical therapist, make sure to ask about the clinic’s safety protocols regarding COVID-19 and protecting against the spread of the virus. Make sure that the clinic has the following safety standards in place:
- Patients and staff are screened for COVID-19 daily including a temperature check.
- Patients and clinicians are required to wear masks at all times.
- All surfaces are sanitized between touches.
- Treatment areas are placed six feet apart.
- Some larger clinics may also have extended hours to allow for staggered staffing, reducing the amount of people in the clinic space at any given time.