Studies show that those with long COVID may benefit from physical therapy services as soon as they are able to tolerate physical activity, a Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine Georgia assistant professor, who specializes in cardiopulmonary physical therapy, says.

Patients who have long COVID present with an abundance of symptoms resulting in functional deficits associated with cardiopulmonary, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and, in some cases, cognitive deficits. These symptoms result in a significant functional decline impacting quality of life. 

Alaina Bell, PT, DPT, who is a board-certified specialist in cardiopulmonary physical therapy, says that recent research reports that physical therapists are directly involved in the treatment of long COVID symptoms across all settings, including inpatient, acute care, and outpatient environments.

A study by the American Physical Therapy Association indicates that physical therapy services can improve outcomes related to cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal system impairments and quality of life in patients experiencing the effects of long COVID, which consists of “signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue to develop after acute COVID-19 infection. These conditions can last weeks, months or years,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“I believe that treatment outcomes for all patients are maximized with a multidisciplinary team approach,” says Bell in a release. Physical therapists can provide individualized rehabilitation programs to those with long COVID. “For example, we can teach them how to manage fatigue to improve exercise tolerance, provide targeted breathing exercises to strengthen muscles of respiration, improve lung capacity, and enhance overall strength, flexibility, and mobility.” 

The CDC reports that long COVID typically affects those with severe COVID-19 illness requiring admission to a hospital intensive care unit, those who are immunocompromised with underlying health conditions, and the unvaccinated. In addition to adults, long COVID can affect both children and adolescents.

“Physical therapists have unique skills, making them key multidisciplinary team members facilitating the patient’s return to optimal function both during their hospital stay and after discharge,” Bell says in the release.

Pulmonary rehabilitation, which focuses on the cardiopulmonary system, may be performed by either a physical therapist or a respiratory therapist. According to studies published in UC Davis Health News and by the American Physical Therapy Association, strengthening exercises, aerobic training, and stretching help to return patients to their prior level of function. 

The studies indicate that the focus is on breathing retraining to improve ventilation, coughing techniques to improve secretion clearance, and exercises to improve both diaphragmatic strength and muscles assisting in respiration.

“Research supports the initiation of early physical therapy to promote functional mobility, decrease medical complications associated with bed rest, and return the patient to their prior level of function,” Bell says in the release.

Photo 293930007 © Aleksei Gorodenkov |