A relatively new term, “post-intensive care syndrome,” encompasses the limitations patients experience after they have been hospitalized. This term is especially relevant when discussing the treatment for COVID-19, which can involve an acute, intensive care hospital stay for days (perhaps even weeks). Patients in the ICU experience decreased mobility, weakness, difficulty with daily tasks as simple as getting out of bed, and if they have been on a ventilator or have been treated for respiratory illness, may also have impaired lung function. These complications may linger for months after a patient leaves the hospital.

So, that’s a laundry list of potential problems! How can physical therapists help?

Our primary goal is to help patients regain mobility and strength so they can function as normally as possible. This helps prevent a return to the hospital. Physical therapists in hospitals help patients learn how to move out of bed more easily, how to use a cane or walker safely, and how to safely maneuver the bathroom. Once a patient can attend outpatient physical therapy (like our clinic at Peak Form), we focus on specific, restorative exercises to improve strength of specific muscles and improve balance.

COVID-19 is well-known to cause respiratory or breathing issues. If someone has been in the ICU on a ventilator, the muscles that help you breathe efficiently can atrophy and weaken. What does this mean? You need to take more frequent breaths each minute, and it takes more effort to breathe deeply.

Can patients breathe easier with physical therapy?

Physical therapists are good at dosing exercise at an intensity that is challenging, but beneficial. We can monitor how well your respiratory system delivers oxygen by using a simple pulse oximeter (which gives a percentage for your oxygen levels, 90% and above is considered “normal”), and you’ll take breaks if you’re breathing too hard. Aerobic exercise is important for improved endurance, and a physical therapist can provide a safe, controlled environment for patients to improve their heart and lung health.

With consistent exercise, our body systems adapt and your tolerance and endurance for exercise will improve, which carries over into daily life. The easier it is for you to exercise, the easier it will be to carry on about your day!

Exercise is medicine.

It’s an adage, but it’s true. Exercise is the closest thing we have to a “wonder drug” and physical therapists are well-trained to help you do it effectively and safely! We are the clinicians next-in-line to help patients recover from COVID-19 so they can get back to life.

As always, if you have specific questions or wish to make an appointment, don’t hesitate to contact us today! And if you are not comfortable coming to the clinic in-person, we can come to you through a Tele-Medicine virtual appointment.

By Laura Vroman, PT, DPT