The purpose of this case report is to provide the clinical presentation and physical therapist management for a patient with post–COVID syndrome. Secondarily, the report highlights the importance of assessing cognitive and emotional health in patients with post–COVID syndrome.
A 37-year-old woman tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and developed mild COVID-19 disease but did not require supplemental oxygen or hospitalization. The patient experienced persistent symptoms, including dyspnea, headaches, and cognitive fog. On day 62, they participated in an outpatient physical therapist evaluation that revealed deficits in exercise capacity, obtaining 50% of their age-predicted 6-minute walk distance. They had minor reductions in muscle strength and cognitive function. Self-reported quality of life was 50, and they scored above established cut-off scores for provisional diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The patient participated in biweekly physical therapist sessions for 8 weeks, which included aerobic training, strengthening exercises, diaphragmatic breathing techniques, and mindfulness training. Metabolic equivalent for task levels increased with variability over the course of the program. The patient’s muscle strength, physical function, and exercise capacity improved. 6-Minute walk distance increased by 199 m, equating to 80% of their age-predicted distance. Quality of life and PTSD scores did not improve. At evaluation after physical therapy, the patient was still experiencing migraines, dyspnea, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction.
This case report described the clinical presentation and physical therapist management of a person with post–COVID syndrome, a novel health condition for which little evidence exists to guide rehabilitation examination and interventions. Physical therapists should consider cognitive function and emotional health in their plan of care for patients with post–COVID syndromes.
This case alerts physical therapists to post–COVID syndrome—which can include debilitating symptoms of decreased aerobic tolerance, anxiety, PTSD, and cognitive dysfunction—and to the role that therapists can play in assessing these symptoms and managing these patients.