Regaining your strength after COVID-19
If you are a COVID-19 survivor, but are too tired to feel like jumping up and down to celebrate just yet, you’re not alone.
Studies have found the most common persistent COVID-19 symptoms to be fatigue and muscle weakness, even six months after recovering from the virus. These symptoms are especially prevalent among people who had been hospitalized with COVID-19, and deconditioning—a loss of physical and/or emotional fitness following a period of inactivity or bedrest—is a likely cause.
Benjamin R. Levin, MD, a Cape Cod Hospital Hospitalist and chief quality officer for Cape Cod Healthcare, said the length of time it takes to regain your strength after having COVID-19 depends on the severity of your illness. Most people can expect to recover at home, just as with so many other illnesses, he said, but cautioned not to assume you can exercise at the level you were at before you became ill.
“The key is to pace yourself,” Dr. Levin said. “Be patient. Start exercising slowly and increase as you’re able to tolerate and build back to where you were previously. The best thing to do is try to get back to moving and being mobile. Walking and yoga are good ways to do this. I don’t want you to try running marathons right after you’ve recovered, but being active is very important.”
While he emphasized the importance of exercise in recovery and getting back to everyday life, Dr. Levin added that you need to be careful. For instance, begin by taking small walks around the house and the yard, then walk around the block. Only then should you think about taking the next step, like jogging, he said.
It’s also important to keep your mind active and eat well to get back to health, he said.
Physical Therapy Options
If you’ve been very ill and were hospitalized due to COVID-19, it’s especially important to take your time and work with your primary care physician to identify what kind of physical therapy will be most helpful, Dr. Levin said.
There are three levels of physical therapy options.
- At-home therapy is available from the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Cape Cod to those who qualify.
- Cape Cod Hospital Outpatient physical therapy facilities are available at:
Oppenheim Rehabilitation Center, Main Street, Chatham
Cape Cod Rehabilitation Center, Attucks Lane, Hyannis
Orleans Rehabilitation Center, Old Colony Way, Orleans
Falmouth Hospital Rehabilitation Center, Ter Heun Drive, Falmouth
- JML Care Center® is a 132-bed inpatient skilled nursing and rehabilitation center located on the Falmouth Hospital campus.
Physical therapists can teach you strength training, and Dr. Levin recommended working hard with a therapist as an outpatient or inpatient if you’re experiencing severe weakness.
“One thing that’s unique about COVID-19 are the lung issues that we’re seeing, and as you work to regain your strength, you might experience this,” Dr. Levin said. “Many people are feeling short of breath when they start getting back to exercise and daily life. If you feel a little short of breath for a little longer than usual, but it goes away easily with rest, that’s OK. If you feel very short of breath and you feel that something has changed, then you need to see a physician.”
To date, more than 68 million people have had COVID-19 in the U.S. While the statistics have been staggering and the pandemic is now two years old, Dr. Levin said one of the most important things to remember is “there is a bright side coming. We have more treatments for COVID-19 now, and at the very least the vaccinations appear to protect people from becoming extraordinarily ill. There is a lot to look forward to, and we’re going to get through this pandemic together.”