Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance about how providers should treat patients with post-COVID conditions (commonly referred to as long COVID). Within these guidelines, the CDC stated that, “creating a comprehensive rehabilitation plan may be helpful for some [long COVID] patients and might include physical and occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, vocational therapy, as well as neurologic rehabilitation for cognitive symptoms.”
Although we’ve previously written about how PTs, OTs, and SLPs are well-positioned to step in and help patients with long COVID, this marks the first time that the CDC has officially acknowledged rehab therapists’ role in post-COVID patient recovery.
Long COVID Guidelines at a Glance
Although these guidelines are subject to change as evidence surrounding post-COVID conditions continues to evolve, the CDC has created a tidy catalog of clinical considerations to properly manage these lingering symptoms. As the guidance is extensive, we’ve summarized the key points here:
- The CDC updated its list of long COVID symptoms. Some of these include:
- Shortness of breath,
- Chest pain,
- Joint pain,
- Muscle pain and weakness, and
- Impaired daily function and mobility.
- The CDC specifically noted that providers shouldn’t rely solely on objective laboratory or imaging findings to establish a diagnosis of post-COVID conditions. According to the CDC, a lack of laboratory or imaging abnormalities does not invalidate the existence, severity, or importance of a patient’s symptoms or conditions.
- The CDC emphasized how important it is for providers to “listen to and validate patients’ experiences” as some post-COVID conditions have been misdiagnosed as mental health issues—particularly among marginalized patient populations.
Rehab Therapy’s Role in Fighting Long COVID
This news emphasizes what we’ve long known: PTs, OTs, and SLPs are perfectly positioned to treat patients experiencing post-COVID conditions that are musculoskeletal in nature (e.g., fatigue, muscle pain and weakness, impaired daily function and mobility).*
Some clinics have already stepped up to the plate, while others have cited their intentions to start a rehab program for recovered COVID-19 patients in 2021 (per our 2021 State of Rehab Therapy Report).
Research into treatment for long COVID patients is still unfolding. “However, if physical therapists stay current on best practices for treating this condition, then long COVID therapy programs could be a great value add for both clinics and communities,” said Karen Litzy, PT, DPT, owner of Karen Litzy Physical Therapy. “Plus, it provides opportunities for physical therapists to partner with local physicians.”
*If a patient is exhibiting symptoms of post-exertional malaise (a commonly reported long COVID symptom), exercise therapy may prove more harmful than helpful. Therefore, initiating or resuming stretching or movement therapies requires careful consideration to avoid either triggering or worsening this condition.
In short, helping patients overcome long COVID can not only help improve the lives of millions, it also offers PTs, OTs, and SLPs the opportunity to prove their value and expertise in a system that has long overlooked their services—especially now that the CDC has given rehab therapists the official nod. To learn more about how you can make the leap into long COVID care, check out this blog post.