Physical therapy might not be the first treatment that comes to mind when discussing COVID-19, but for some patients who continue to have side effects and complications long after the original infection has cleared, these treatments are helping them to regain muscle strength, balance and endurance. Many of these patients, sometimes referred to as COVID-19 “long-haulers,” have spent weeks in the hospital and are severely de-conditioned.
“Picture yourself immobilized in a hospital bed for an extended period of time,” says Dr. Seth Kaplan, president and CEO of Baton Rouge Physical Therapy. “When you don’t use your muscles on a regular basis—to walk, to move around, to lift everything from groceries to your children to a book—your muscles begin to atrophy.”
Physical therapists are helping people regain that function and get back to life. The first step is finding out what the patient’s goals are. “Every person has different goals and aspirations,” Kaplan says. “That’s where a physical therapist can step in and identify what their goals are and what deficits they have and how we can work together to get them where they want to be.”
For some, those goals may be recreational like having more energy to play with grandchildren or getting back to sports like running, tennis or golf. For others, reaching their goals may be a matter of safety.
Dixon Touchstone, a formerly healthy 71 year old, sought treatment from Baton Rouge Physical Therapy after a COVID-19 diagnosis that resulted in two lengthy hospital stays. Although initially diagnosed with the virus in late March of 2020, he says his condition remained “pitiful” more than a year later. “I was not able to do much,” Touchstone says. “I couldn’t hold a book up more than five minutes to read. It became frustrating to me.”
Physical therapy has helped Dixon to regain some of his strength and balance. On his first visit to the clinic, Dixon was fatigued after walking from the lobby to the exam room, and he could not get out of a chair without using his arms for support. With therapy, he can now complete that exercise—getting in and out of a chair—12 times, and he has progressed from using a walker to using a cane for support.
When working with a patient who has had COVID 19, physical therapists use the same tools and measures they have always used—functional tests like how far the patient can walk in a certain time, how many times they can get in and out of a chair without using arm support, and they monitor oxygen saturation with a pulse ox.
“Balance deficits, strength deficits, endurance deficits, these are issues we’ve been treating forever,” Kaplan says. “This is really in our wheelhouse.” Kaplan urges anyone facing these issues to contact the skilled physical therapists at Baton Rouge Physical Therapy. While many of us struggle not knowing the long-term effects of COVID, patients like Touchstone can take steps in the interim to improve the quality of life by opting for physical therapy.
Baton Rouge Physical Therapy provides free screenings for patients who feel they may benefit. For more information and contact information, please visit their website BRPTLake.com.