In-Depth: Physical therapy helping ease long COVID-19 symptoms

Clinics focus on breating, simple exercises
Posted at 6:24 AM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-18 23:00:49-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Doctors have found a way to help people suffering from COVID-like symptoms long after their infection ends — physical therapy.

"We treat these kinds of patients all the time," says Sean McKeown, the Regional Director at Physical Rehabilitation Network. His clinics created the "Post-Acute COVID-19 Exercise and Rehabilitation" program, or PACER.

"We normally take care of patients with a kind of general decline in function, balance issues, muscular wasting, and muscular weakness," he says. "So this falls right in our line of work."

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The PACER Program using a technique called "Personalized Blood Flow Restriction Therapy." It focuses on breathing exercises and simple physical activity to help COVID Long-Haulers deal with fatigue, shortness of breath, and muscle or joint pain. McKeown says the difference between PACER and other Physical Therapy is the gradual pace of the rehabilitation.

"If someone can only walk 25 steps, you know that's that's their starting point," he says. "We're trying to push that point out further and further, so they can gain function without being overworked or exhausted."

Jessica Gibson is one of the PACER patients. She got COVID-19 in November and is still dealing with some symptoms. But, she says PACER has helped her improve over the past few months.

"It motivated me to get out of the house," Gibson says. "I can spend an hour trying to focus on all these different things and get going, little by little."

Doctors across the country are finding similar success in helping Long-Haulers with Physical Therapy.

In New York, Dr. Noah Greenspan runs an online boot camp through the Pulmonary Wellness Foundation. The free program offers daily videos with breathing exercises, motivational tips, and simple workouts to help people recover.

"If I've learned anything, it's that we're on COVID time," Dr. Greenspan says. "There's not a whole lot we can do to speed things up. But there's a lot we could do to slow things down."

About 750 people have signed up for his boot camp, which he says can be adjusted for every individual.

"There are huge amounts of variability. Not just from patient to patient, but in the same patient; from week to week, from day to day, sometimes even within the same day."

Riverside resident Maria Jimenez-Correa joined the boot camp after her battle with Long-COVID. She says it's one of the only things that help her get out of bed each morning.

"When I get those kinds of feelings, I have to get up, move, take a walk, even if it's a short walk, just so that that fatigue that brain fog goes away," says Jimenez-Correa.

McKeown and Dr. Greenspan both say people should consult with their doctor before starting a Physical Therapy regimen for Long-COVID.

For more information on the PACER program, click here.

For more information on the Pulmonary Wellness Foundation's boot camp, click here.