Rehabilitating COVID-19 Long Haulers

Rehabilitating COVID-19 Long Haulers

If you recovered from COVID-19 months ago and still aren’t back to feeling like yourself again, you’re not alone. According to the Journal of Infection, more than 50% of all patients who contracted the virus may have symptoms that just don’t go away.

“Symptoms can sometimes linger for weeks or even months,” said Angela Kiekover, MSPT, manager, Holland Hospital Physical Therapy and Rehab Services. “While doctors are still in the discovery phase of understanding long COVID, there are things we can do to improve quality of life for people who continue to struggle with symptoms.”

This past February, the National Institutes of Health launched a new initiative to pinpoint the causes, and ultimately, the path to treatment of those who have been ill with COVID-19 and don’t seem to fully recover. Often referred to as “long COVID-19” or “post-COVID-19 syndrome,” common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Brain fog (inability to focus or concentrate)
  • Memory issues
  • Sleep problems
  • Fevers
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Anxiety and depression

A recent study in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology noted that 85% of COVID-19 long haulers had multiple brain-related symptoms, such as brain fog, headache and loss of taste or smell, even when they were never hospitalized as a result of the virus.

“We’re also seeing patients experiencing overall weakness and deconditioning, as well as individuals with swallowing difficulties from being on a ventilator. The symptoms and severity are wide ranging,” Kiekover said. “The daily struggle to get out of bed, get dressed, go to work and take care of family can be extremely challenging, both physically and mentally.”

Discussing your symptoms with your doctor is a critical first step. (Don’t have a primary care physician? We can help you find one.) Painting as complete a picture as possible can not only help you, but also shape what health care providers know about this condition so they can better understand how to improve symptoms now and in the future.

Besides visiting your doctor, other things you can do to cope with long COVID-19 include:

  • Getting enough sleep. If you find yourself exhausted often or are getting unrefreshing sleep despite being in bed for several hours, look into your sleep hygiene. If your sleep woes persist, consider speaking with a pulmonary and sleep medicine specialist. Many sleep issues are treatable.

  • Returning to physical activity, albeit slowly. If you can’t return to your pre-COVID-19 fitness level right away, don’t force it. Take it slow. Going for a walk with the dog or doing yoga, where you can work on controlled breathing, are good places to start. Above all, be mindful of how you feel and particularly careful if you’re having any respiratory issues.

  • Seeking additional support. Holland Hospital offers comprehensive physical therapy and rehabilitation services. Depending on your specific symptoms and needs, services may include speech-language therapy for cognition, physical therapy for physical and neurological functioning, and cardiac or cardiopulmonary rehab for lung and heart functioning. Patients can also access mental health support and nutrition counseling.

“Whether you need support in managing several aspects of your day-to-day life or simply want to restart an exercise program safely, we’re here for you,” Kiekover said. “We can provide all levels of care for all types of patients.”


Holland Hospital Physical Therapy and Rehab Services offers close-to-home expertise and support for optimal recoveries—whether you need relief from chronic pain or rehabilitation from an illness, injury or surgery. To make an appointment, call (616) 355-3930.

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