Wellness for long COVID: what are the side-effects of treatment?

infection control wellness & wellbeing Dec 24, 2021
Wellness for long COVID

Research is beginning to show that a lot of treatments for COVID-19 are similar to cancer treatments and consequently have similar side effects. We know that as therapists we can help with many of those side effects, and now we are also realising that we can apply that knowledge to help those experiencing the long-term side effects of Covid. It’s not just the physical side-effects of treatment and a lingering illness, but also the mental wellbeing impact of the pandemic itself - isolation, uncertainty, and fear. It’s a subject we explored in one of our recent webinars.

Physical and emotional side effects of COVID-19

The physical side effects of treatment and a lingering illness

In many instances, COVID-19 is presenting as a chronic illness. The most discussed physical symptoms are:

  • Continuous symptoms of cough
  • Breathlessness
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Chest heaviness or pressure in chest
  • Profound fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of taste, loss of smell

We have also found through our research that additional physical symptoms are beginning to present as: skin rashes, palpitations, fever and headache, digestive issues, pins and needles (neurological issues), chest pain, joint pain, a relapsing/remitting nature of the illness, brain fog, concentration, muscle pain, depression.

These are interesting. As therapists, if someone told you they had these symptoms, would you think they had something else?

The emotional side effects of COVID-19 and the pandemic as a whole

The emotional of COVID-19 is largely anecdotal rather than evidence based, simply because there hasn't yet been the time to data gather and analyse it. That's not to say it isn't extremely valuable information however, it's just not based on statistical information.

It's not just those who have had COVID who experience an emotional impact either, it's the way the pandemic has affected our lives in general. So far, the emotional impact of the disease includes things like feelings of:

  • Isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Fear/frustration resulting from fearlessness
  • Anxiety

We work all the time with those affected by cancer, many of whom have a reduced resistance to infections because of cancer treatment, so they were identified as being clinically vulnerable and shielded early on. It's a terrifying circumstance - a cold could kill a cancer patient because they have no immunity and then there’s this virus with significant consequences.

Again, though do these emotional side effects of the pandemic sound familiar to another circumstance?

Both the physical and emotional impact of COVID-19 and its treatment – both in terms of lifestyle and medication, has many parallels with those who experience cancer treatment, and in particular, chemotherapy.

Treatment for COVID-19

A lot of the treatments for COVID-19 are in fact cancer treatments, so some of the side effects are similar. Something we found fascinating. We know that as therapists we can help cancer patients, so knowing that there's something familiar in all this, we can begin to look for ways in which we can help COVID-19 patients as well.

We could only find three reliable sources on this at the moment, and it’s all very technical information. If you’ve done our Cancer Awareness Course (which is free) it will take you some way to understanding some of the terminology around COVID-19 treatment. If you’ve done our Advanced Cancer Awareness Course, then it will be more familiar.

One of the main types of drugs used in treatment of COVID-19 are BTK inhibitors. They are drugs that inhibit the function of BTK (Bruton's tyrosine kinase), a non-receptor kinase that plays a crucial role in oncogenic signalling. The inhibitors are used to treat certain cancers. The protein it inhibits plays a big part in the body's immune response.

The key learning is that these drugs are used to treat some cancers and are of benefit in COVID-19 treatment too. Knowing how these work in cancer treatment can help understand what the impact will be.

So, we come to the symptoms of the treatment:

  • Brain fog
  • Low mood
  • Anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Muscle aches
  • Skin aches
  • Digestive issues
  • Neurological disorders (itching)

Again, these all sound like chemotherapy treatment, and, as one person mentioned in our webinar, menopause. This parallel is interesting because menopause and cancer tend to come at similar times, and this tends to relate to hormonal changes driven by oestrogen - a growth promoting hormone. In an enormously over simplified explanation, when we have cancer, we have cells that are behaving differently, and they’re often benefitted by the presence of oestrogen. Therefore, the medical treatment involves removing the oestrogen and many of the side effects are related to that rapid hormonal reduction.

Coming back to the familiarity of symptoms, if things are familiar, they are potentially a little less scary and we can seek to deal with them. That's not to say that the symptoms aren't catastrophic, but they are recognisable and therefore as therapists we can look at what we know now and to information we know we can trust.

How can touch treatments help with the long-term of COVID-19?

We know that touch treatments have a positive impact on everyone including cancer patients, and that we have reliable information to support that hypothesis.

Again and again, we see the power of specialist touch therapies, and now we are also seeing it anecdotally for those experiencing the long-term impact COVID-19 as well. For the latter, the evidence is largely anecdotal as there hasn’t been enough time to gather data and analyse it. However, piecing together the information we have from cancer patients, there’s really strong base to draw on, with good references, to support the benefits of touch therapies for this newly vulnerable group.

Proven benefits of touch treatments for cancer patients include:

  • Reduced anxiety, depressed mood, and anger (in breast cancer patients)
  • Increased vigour (in breast cancer patients)
  • Decided mood disturbances and perceived stress levels
  • Improved sleep quality (one lady who had one of our touch treatments said after just one session she slept for the first time in 24 years)
  • Reduced nausea
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Increased urinary dopamine and serotonin values, natural killer cell numbers and lymphocytes in breast cancer patients

One of our favourite pieces of research showed that after a 10-minute reflexology massage (five mins per foot), all these things went down:

  • Pain intensity
  • Pulse rate
  • Respiratory rate

A study into massage reported that higher pain intensity decreased by 42% following touch treatment (and only 25% in the control group).

Effects of massage and touch treatments also seem to be even better when they are repeatedly given by the same therapist - which is a lovely and important piece of information around trust and familiarity.

How can we help as therapists?

Armed with this knowledge, and specialist training, as therapists we can begin to bring the benefits of oncology massage to people experiencing long-Covid symptoms.

Light touch massage is brilliant for lots of illnesses. In the webinar, one contributor mentioned a client with fibromyalgia who found it made an enormous difference. It's also beneficial for elderly clients who may have more sensitive skin, and for people with injuries. It's not just cancer patients. For us, there are two elements that are essential, and that can help with the long-term impact of COVID and the pandemic:

  • The biology of our treatments (which you can learn about on our Advanced Cancer Awareness Course)
  • The psychology of the treatment. Our therapies are about:
    • Positive touch - often people haven’t been touched with kindness for a long time when they have been ill, it's all about medical treatments.
    • Predictability - we use a lot of repetitive movements to help ease the mind. There are already enough surprises when being treated with cancer.
    • Acceptance - it's important for us to communicate with acceptance, no matter how this individual presented or what with, we will be accepting.

We have been asked several times if we will create specific COVID-19 therapist training. So far, we don't feel it's necessary. We think that therapists are amazing and have all the tools they need to support vulnerable clients if they have done our Advanced Cancer Awareness training and our Infection Cross Control training.

We are always open to hearing your suggestions, and as more information emerges, we're happy to consider that position further. If you would like to learn more about risk assessment, and specialist training, you can download four of our most popular webinars for FREE until the end of the month, including:

  • An Idiot’s Guide To Infection Control
  • Wellness For Long COVID
  • Medical And Scientific Jargon Explained
  • Menopause - The Unexpected Side-Effect Of Treatment For Cancer

Simply follow the link below.


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