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The Importance of Rehabilitation for Covid-19 Recovery

  • Category: Articles by Clinicians
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Elbert Chang, MD, Pulmonologist and Critical Care Physician

If you or a loved one is recovering from Covid-19, you may be wondering when you’re going to start feeling “normal” again. Covid-19 presents a wide range of symptoms, and patients recovering from more severe cases often experience ongoing physical, cognitive, and neurological issues. Fortunately, as I’ll write more about below, physical rehabilitation can help.

Why is Covid-19 so harsh in these cases? Unlike pneumonia or influenza—which heal relatively fast from a respiratory standpoint—Covid-19 inflammation lingers, meaning the most critically ill individuals often spend weeks or months on ventilation, bed bound. As a result, these patients can have muscle loss and weakness, severe weight loss, nerve damage, paralysis, and more.

To complicate things, many severe Covid-19 patients experience acute respiratory distress syndrome, a type of respiratory failure causing rapid, widespread lung inflammation that results in life-threatening hypoxia (shortness of breath). Corticosteroids like dexamethasone are necessary to fight this inflammation. Unfortunately, when taken long-term, these steroids cause further muscular weakness. As a result, many who discharge as “recovered” from Covid-19 are unable to walk or care for themselves. Some end up in nursing facilities.

This is where rehabilitation is critical. Rigorous, timely inpatient hospital therapy expedites recovery from critical illness and increases the patient’s chances for regaining strength and function. With neurological conditions like stroke and brain injury, the sooner therapy is administered, the better the chances for an improved outcome. As we see more Covid-19 infections and recoveries, the same logic seems to apply.

Since Covid-19 impacts the body in so many ways, patients may need several types of therapy. Physical therapy can improve strength and conditioning, while occupational therapy can help patients practice resuming daily living activities, like bathing or dressing. Formerly intubated patients may require speech therapy to address vocal or swallowing issues. Those with cognitive deficits may benefit from neuropsychological services. And, of course, due to the pulmonary nature of Covid-19, respiratory therapy can help the lungs heal and regain function.

Covid-19 is a new virus, so we are still learning about its long-term effects. However, for those recovering from severe Covid-19, we can safely say that rehabilitation helps them regain function and quality of life, and that those who do not receive rehabilitative therapy may experience more severe symptoms for much longer. If you’ve had moderate to severe Covid-19, talk to your doctor about rehabilitation. It may be your best chance for a full, lasting recovery.

Casa Colina Hospital and Centers for Healthcare offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for individuals who have recovered from Covid-19 infection. For more information, please contact 909/596-7733 and an operator will direct your call.