AND BREATHE…. Physios in NHS Lanarkshire help people with long Covid to tackle breathlessness


Around 1 in 10 people suffer from prolonged illness after Covid-19 and in Lanarkshire people are getting help managing their symptoms from a team of dedicated physios.

Lanarkshire has had around 38,000 Covid-19 cases, so as many as 3,800 people could be suffering from long Covid, though accurate statistics are not yet available.

Recovery from Covid can take many weeks – even months – until people start to feel themselves again.

And long Covid symptoms range from common ones such as fatigue and fever to anxiety and muscle pains, to more unusual symptoms such as heart palpitations, skin problems and even hallucinations.

One of the most common post-Covid symptoms – especially for people who have been in hospital – is continued shortness of breath, regardless of if they’re motionless or moving around.

Many such patients get better progressively with rest, exercises and a gradual increase in activity.

That’s where NHS Lanarkshire’s team of physios comes in.

They’re currently working with a number of ‘long Covid’ patients who are experiencing breathlessness and teaching them breathing techniques.

Carolyn Bell, Physiotherapy Lead at University Hospital, Monklands, explains:

“Breathlessness is very frightening.

“People who have had COVID may have been very breathless or had a cough and this can change the way that they breathe.

If people have to work hard to breathe, it can make them feel very tired and anxious.

“We work with people to identify how their breathing pattern may have changed due to Covid – and teach them how to correct it.

“Normal breathing – when you’re at rest – consists of breathing into and out through your nose. The diaphragm (the muscle just under our rib cage) moves up and down drawing air into your lungs.

“But after Covid, some people find they’ve started using the muscles in their neck and shoulders which can make the problems worse.

“In trying to return breathing to a more normal pattern, one technique we use involves “letting go” of their neck and shoulders and breathing into and out, though their nose. As they let go, they’ll notice their tummy gently rising and falling as they breathe in, and out. They can remind themselves to carry this out throughout the day by thinking “Stop, Drop, Flop”.

Used regularly, this simple technique can help improve breathlessness which is one of the most persistent – and unpleasant – symptoms of long Covid.

Patients who are experiencing long term symptoms of COVID will initially be encouraged to self-care, at home, but if more specific help is required they may be referred to the Physiotherapy service by their GP or other health care provider.

Once they’ve been assessed, they may be given a programme of graded exercise and advice on pacing themselves, taking things in gradual steps.

For advice on recovering from Covid, click here

Anyone who thinks they may have symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and arrange a test immediately by calling 0800 028 2816 or by booking one in advance at www.nhsinform.scot/test-and-protect.

To find out more about the services offered by NHS Lanarkshire, visit the website here

Read more about our work with NHS Lanarkshire which was awarded the Best Digital and Social Media Campaign Award and was Highly Commended in the Campaign Challenges category at the 2020 PRIDE Scotland DARE Awards.



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