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Physical therapy helping to treat long COVID

Long COVID treatment
Posted at 1:56 PM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-18 11:36:38-05

DENVER, Colo. — New research is helping pave the way for better treatment for those suffering from long COVID. Doctors are seeing patients who take part in physical therapy have significantly better outcomes than those who don't.

The research shows that physical therapy techniques used for concussion patients can put long COVID patients on the fast track to recovery.

"Long COVID is a condition that surprisingly a large number of people have had after they've gotten the COVID infection,” said Bradley Davidson, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Denver who contributed to the University’s study. "Some of the patients that we've seen in our research study have had some really debilitating effects from having long COVID."

According to the CDC, 1 in 13 adults in the U.S. has long COVID symptoms after first contracting the virus. Some symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive problems like memory and haziness lasting longer than three months.

But research conducted by the University of Denver has helped health providers treat long COVID patients, and it starts with neurological studies like when someone has a concussion.

"Really that was our lead into long COVID, because post-concussion syndrome looks a lot like long COVID,” Davidson said. "So, that made us wonder, can we use the same tools to understand concussion to understand long COVID? And also, can we use the same tools to treat concussion and also use those to treat long COVID?"

Davidson and his team wondered if they could examine how motor control, motor skills, and movement are affected by COVID-19, and maybe, they could find promising ways to help patients. All of this involves studying eye movement and tracking, along with head movement that Davidson says can traditionally indicate a problem with the brain, which his team has found is treatable by rehabilitation therapy.

This study was implemented at physical therapy with Dan Stoot, the owner of High Definition Physical Therapy in Englewood, Colorado. Stoot has his patients participate in therapy very similar to what patients do when they have a concussion. He throws a tennis ball and has his patients catch the ball. If they catch a ball in their right hand, they name a fruit. If they catch it in their left hand, they name a beverage.

"We've taken a vestibular base rehab approach to treating people with long COVID and various other dysfunction for having the virus and not recovering,” Stoot said. "I would say at this point, it's making up 20-40% of my practice, and as high as 60%. We've seen about 20 to 50. Patients come through with it."

As for the cost, it's treated just like regular physical therapy through your insurance.

"We're using a specific sets of eye movement and eye tracking and cognitive brain type tasks in order to really re-train a side of the vestibular system that deals more with orientation and the rest of it,” Stoot said. “I’m able to show changes from day one to day 14 to day 30. We're getting people 60-70% better on a six-week time frame."