Since the very beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it has been evident that many patients have experienced prolonged and significant symptoms often lasting for weeks or even months after the initial infection. Despite a large amount of research internationally, much is still unknown about the pathophysiology of ‘long COVID’ or how to treat it successfully.
Many patients with post-COVID syndrome experience an array of symptoms that impact their ability to work and function normally in daily life. This condition – most commonly known as ‘Long COVID’ – is estimated to affect between 10% and 30% of people who became infected with SARS-CoV-2, with one in seven patients still symptomatic at 12 weeks.
There are numerous potentially debilitating long COVID symptoms. Surveys of patients with post-COVID showed that they experienced an average of 55 symptoms, which are categorised into six broad areas (Yelin et al, 2022). Some common symptoms that are often presented, include –
Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
Chest pain or tightness
Depression and anxiety
The most frequent symptoms are fatigue, breathlessness and cognitive dysfunction presenting as “brain fog” and memory issues as well as mood disturbance, anxiety and depression.
Long Covid requires a multi-disciplinary approach and this often includes Osteopathy. Osteopaths can potentially play an important role in providing education, support and rehabilitation advice as well as manual treatment for patients with long COVID.
The addition to Osteopathic manual therapy helping release the rib cage and neck myo-fascially which can improve heart rate and improve the patients sense of ease during breathing even after a single treatment (Fereydounnia et al, 2022). Research is also underway to add Osteopathic manual therapy (OMT) to support rehabilitation in patients with long COVID in terms of fatigue and functional capacity (Curi et al, 2022).
An example of how Osteopathic treatment can help can be illustrated is with a common treatment approach, the Cranio-Cervical area can influence Dysautonomia (changes in the autonomic nervous system) enabling the para-sympathetic activity to optimise recovery and healing by reducing fatigue and improving sleep. Furthermore treatment of the Thoracic cage (ribs) and diaphragm can reduce chest tightness and improve breathing mechanics. This movement boosting work optimises the bodies natural functions helping to speed up recovery.
It is important to note that long COVID is unpredictable, and the trajectory of the illness varies according to the extent of lingering infection, psychological factors, autoimmune and inflammatory responses and many other factors. Osteopathic treatment offers treatment and support adapted to individual needs during a patients recovery.