Elaine Victory came down with Covid in 2022 and experienced Long Covid symptoms for months afterwards, affecting her social life and impacted on her running, which is something she loves to do. She says physiotherapy really helped.
Training for a half-marathon series and coasting off the high of a personal best run-time, Elaine Victory contracted Covid-19.
The Auckland woman, originally from Ireland, was fit and active before getting sick in March 2022, which sparked more than a year-long journey with long Covid.
Some days were good for the 38-year-old, but she’d be “completely exhausted” on others.
“If I made it through a full week of work, I was so exhausted at the weekend I just couldn't get out of bed.”
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Most people who develop Covid-19 fully recover, but evidence suggests approximately 10–20% experience mid- and long-term effects after the initial illness, the World Health Organisation says.
Symptoms differ, but can include fatigue; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; memory, concentration or sleep problems, aches and pains, and depression or anxiety.
Victory said she went back-and-forth to her GP ruling out other issues, before being referred to a physiotherapist to help manage her symptoms.
It’s this she credits with getting her life back on track.
“It was the only thing that helped me... I have no idea where I would be without that.”
With the goal to avoid ‘boom and bust cycles’ and an eventual return to exercise, Victory said physiotherapy helped her pace herself.
Slowly, over months, she was guided through moving from a walk, to a brisk walk, to a slow jog.
In January – after getting her physios’ sign-off – Victory did a 10-kilometre run.
It was “a lot harder” than pre-Covid “but I was really pleased” nonetheless.
Seventeen months on from getting Covid, Victory feels about “80%”.
Victory felt “lucky” her GP suggested physiotherapy as an option – something she hoped to bring greater awareness to.
“I never would have known about that”.
It also made her aware of an equity issue: she was fortunate to afford “something so valuable”, but said many “don’t have access to that kind of health care”.
Brigitte Eastwood, a cardiorespiratory physiotherapist speaking on behalf of Physiotherapy New Zealand, said it’s “imperative” that physiotherapy is available to people with long Covid in a funded service.
Eastwood said, depending on their symptoms, some people with long Covid can have respiratory muscle weakness and altered or disrupted patterns of breathing, which can in turn make their symptoms worse.
It could be better to go to turn to your physio rather than your GP to treat your symptoms.
Physiotherapists are “well-placed” to support people with long Covid – but without a “coordinated, funded service, we’re not going to see equitable access of care for people with long Covid”.
“This is a whole group of patients who are really struggling to access appropriate care, and there are health workers happy to be involved.”
Massey University senior lecturer Dr Lynette Hodges said a person’s fitness doesn’t just go away when they get long Covid or ME/CFS: something is happening to their physiological system.
Figuring out what is happening and how it can be best managed, is important – which is where support from respiratory or clinical exercise physiologists can also be really helpful, Hodges said.
National Public Health Service interim director – prevention, Matt Hannant said GPs have been provided clinical guidelines to help them manage long Covid patients.
“There is a wide range of symptoms which may involve various specialist care or treatment. For that reason, GPs are well-placed to work with their patients to refer them to specialist services as needed.”
Hannant said the implementation of clinical coding would allow for officials to better understand the impact of long Covid in Aotearoa, and aid in “any ongoing planning for services and training”.