ReCOVery: COVID-19 and Your Day-to-Day Activities

Category: Community Corner, Latest News, Learning Centre, Patient Education

Introduction

Are you finding your typical day-to-day activities more challenging after recovering from COVID-19? Are basic tasks such as negotiating stairs, getting dressed, gardening, cooking a meal, grocery shopping, and other tasks more exhausting than usual? After recovering from Covid-19, many people find it difficult to do these kinds of tasks and need to rely on others to help them. If you or someone you know is experiencing this, continue reading to learn more about why COVID-19 affects your ability to do regular activities and what we can do to help your recovery further.

Why does COVID-19 affect your day-to-day activities?

COVID-19 can cause extensive deconditioning. This means that the combination of inflammatory processes of the illness, inactivity, poor nutrition, poor oxygenation, etc., that your body may have experienced when you suffered from COVID-19 resulted in decreased endurance / cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and mobility.

In addition to typical deconditioning, many individuals experience something called Post-Exertional Malaise (PEM) after having COVID-19. This means that after doing physical or cognitive tasks that should not be very challenging, one may feel exhausted for days. Post-Exertional Malaise is often part of a condition known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, which can develop after having a viral infection, among other causes. The medical community is debating if some people are developing this specific syndrome after having COVID-19 or something that looks similar.

Whether you are experiencing the effects of Post-Exertional Malaise or deconditioning of your endurance / cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and mobility, all of the above negatively affect your ability to function now and complete your typical day-to-day activities.

Endurance / Cardiovascular fitness

Endurance or cardiovascular fitness refers to the “ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen during sustained physical activity” (ACSM, 2017, p. 2). In other words, when you are doing a physical activity such as walking, chopping vegetables, or cleaning the house, your heart, lungs, and blood vessels, all work together to bring oxygen to the muscles involved in this task. When you have COVID-19, the cardiovascular system can become deconditioned. The system is having more difficulty supplying oxygen all over the body and is no longer used to the demands of regular activity. As a result, doing daily activities may cause your heart rate to increase, and you may feel shortness of breath and fatigue. As part of the ReCOVery program, your physiotherapist will assess your endurance to determine the optimal treatment approach and intensity of your exercise program.

stairway

Strength

Muscle strength refers to the “ability of a muscle to exert force” and for those muscles to “continue to perform without fatigue” (ACSM, 2017, p. 2). When you do any daily activity, your muscles enable you to move your limbs as required to complete the task. If the task involves heavy objects, large movements, or takes an extended amount of time, your muscles will have to work harder and be strong enough to allow you to complete the task. When you have COVID-19, muscles may weaken due to disuse or poor nutrition and oxygenation. This results in your muscles being too weak for some of your typical daily activities. Therefore you may find it difficult to do activities such as carrying a pot or walking up the stairs. During the initial assessment of the ReCOVery program, your physiotherapist will assess the strength of key muscle groups and, based on that information, tailor strengthening exercises to your needs.

Mobility

Mobility refers to the movement of individual joints in your body, as well as your overall ability to perform movements such as getting out of bed, standing up from a chair, or reaching for something on the floor. When you have been inactive due to COVID-19, your joints may stiffen up, and the muscles that allow you to perform movements weaken. As a result, certain activities may be more challenging now. For example, your shoulders may have stiffened up, and the shoulder muscles weakened, and as a result, it is now difficult to lift your arms to brush your hair. While you may have previously been able to get up from a low chair easily, now it may be difficult. When attending the ReCOVery program, your physiotherapist will thoroughly evaluate your mobility and provide you with appropriate exercises and strategies to improve your mobility.

What can we do to help you return to your day-to-day activities?

Retraining your endurance / cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and mobility will help reverse the deconditioning effects of COVID-19. At the beginning of the ReCOVery program, your physiotherapist will discuss with you what activities you are having difficulty with and assess your endurance, strength, and mobility. Based on that information, your physiotherapist with tailor the ReCOVery program to your unique needs, including exercises to improve endurance, strength, and mobility. As you progress through the program, you should have more energy and be able to return to your daily activities, such as walking, dressing, cooking, and whatever else is important to you.

What about Post-Exertional Malaise?

If you are experiencing Post-Exertional Malaise, the ReCOVery program will look different for you. The program will be longer, more spread out, and modified based on your daily needs. We will work with you to determine which activities are important and meaningful to you and support you in pacing yourself so that your energy systems can heal and not be overworked as you recover. There may be less traditional exercising, especially in the early stages. Instead, we will focus on pacing, symptom monitoring, and functional physical activity, e.g., going for a walk or putting away groceries.

If you would like to discuss any challenges you are experiencing with day-to-day activities, please reach out to Bella at Pro Motion Physiotherapy.

Phone: 905-731-1991

Email: recovery@promotionphysiotherapy.com

We look forward to helping you in your recovery!

Written by Bella Levi, Registered Physiotherapist

References
American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 10th Edition. Lippincott Raven; 2017.

Reviewed March 2024