You likely have heard of common symptoms of COVID-19, such as breathlessness, fever, cough, reduced sense of smell, aches, pain, etc. But did you know that COVID-19 can affect your muscles?
How does Covid-19 affect your muscles?
When you felt ill, you probably lay in bed to rest and allow your body to recover, especially if you were hospitalized. It is important to preserve your energy when you feel unwell. However, staying in bed also has a detrimental effect on your muscles. Research has demonstrated that each week someone stays in bed, they may lose approximately 12% of their muscle strength. Multiply that by the number of weeks you were sick with COVID-19, and you will realize just how much muscle mass you may have lost. Loss of muscle mass is called Sarcopenia and is a large part of why you may feel weak and easily fatigued now.
In more severe cases of COVID-19, especially if admitted to an Intensive Care Unit, one may develop severe muscle weakness due to secondary conditions known as Critical Illness Myopathy and Critical Illness Polyneuropathy. Due to the severity of the illness, a person’s muscles and/or nerves may be affected, causing extensive weakness of the limb and respiratory (breathing) muscles.
As part of the ReCOVery program, your physiotherapist will assess your muscle strength and then, based on the findings, will guide you through targeted exercises to help you improve your muscle strength.
Why is muscle weakness a problem?
To answer this question, it is important to understand what our muscles actually do.
Movers and Shakers
Our muscles are the movers and shakers that keep us going all day long. They hold us up straight and enable us to walk and do movement-based tasks from cooking to gardening to playing with the grandkids. The diaphragm and other respiratory muscles enable us to breathe. If you find it challenging to move around or do some of your day-to-day activities, it is likely in part because your muscles are weak.
Muscles play a crucial role in helping us maintain our balance. If you take a wrong step or slip, your muscles need to be strong and agile to allow you to take a quick step or reach with an arm to catch yourself and prevent a fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury in older adults and can result in fractures and brain injuries, negatively impacting quality of life. Good balance helps prevent falls.
Improving your balance will require various exercises to strengthen important muscles and specific exercises to challenge your balance reactions.
Muscles play a significant role in keeping our bones healthy. Throughout life, the body constantly replaces old bone with new bone. When we are young, new bone is added faster than old bone is removed, and therefore we have an overall increase in bone mass. However, later, as we age, bone is broken down faster than it is replaced. This results in weakened or porous bones, also known as Osteoporosis. This process is exacerbated when we need to stay in bed for weeks, as we lose approximately 1% of bone mass per week of bed rest.
As a result, after recovering from COVID-19, your bones are likely weaker than before. Weakened bones put you at greater risk of a fracture. The good news is that, like other tissues of the body, bones can be strengthened. When we do weight-bearing exercises (resistance exercises done against gravity) that activate muscles, the muscles pull on bones and stimulate the bones to grow more cells, making them stronger. Therefore, as part of your rehabilitation after COVID-19, it will be important to incorporate specific exercises for bone health.
How can we help the recovery of your muscles?
The ReCOVery program is specifically designed to help you regain muscle strength. At the beginning of the program, your physiotherapist will do several tests to assess your strength and balance. Based on what the physiotherapist finds, you will then be taught a variety of exercises to improve your muscle strength and specific exercises that will target your mobility, balance, and bone health. Doing these exercises for the duration of the program will help you feel more energetic, better able to move, and more balanced, and you will be on track to strengthening your bones.
If you would like to further discuss your muscle weakness, mobility challenges, balance changes, or bone health, please reach out to Bella at Pro Motion Physiotherapy.
We look forward to helping you in your recovery!
Written by Bella Levi, Registered Physiotherapist