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  • Kristin McNealus, DPT, MBA

Physical Therapy and COVID-19

Physical therapists can be helpful in this time of crisis. I can understand how this virus that is causing significant respiratory distress, requiring oxygen or even ventilation can seem like it is not the time for physical therapy... but we have expertise that can be used to help oxygenation.

Physical therapy can help patients with positioning for optimal respiration. Did you know that people with COVID-19 are getting the best oxygen profusion if they are put prone? Physical therapists help people of various diagnoses get onto their stomachs, or as close as they can tolerate, and prop them with consideration for limiting skin breakdown and for joint protection.

Both exertional hypoxia and orthostatic hypotention are being reported even when patients seem to be stable in bed. Physical therapists are trained in looking for these symptoms to assure a safe discharge. You don't want a person getting sent home because the resting saturation is 92% and then they have a syncopal episode while walking to the bathroom and hitting their head. Physical therapy can help increase awareness and educate even if the safest option is to get the person home before the symptoms resolve.

We also are always called on to help people regain strength after prolonged bedrest. People who are hospitalized for as long as is reported will be significantly deconditioned. Performing basic activities of daily living will be challenging even for those who were active and independent prior to hospitalization. Physical therapists are experts in how to strengthen safely without over exerting someone who recently had respiratory dysfunction.

If you are a physical therapy, advocate to be brought on to these cases to limit hospital-acquired secondary complications, and to help increase safety for discharge. Also, advocate for physical therapy after discharge.

If you have a loved one who has this virus, consider asking for PT to be involved on the care team. Doctors may be so overwhelmed with the medical care, it may not be on their minds to consider allied health professionals.

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