long haulers

Public health experts are largely baffled as to how to treat coronavirus long-haulers, who continue to deal with lingering COVID-19 symptoms

As a massage therapist, you’ve likely built several coronavirus-screening questions into your client intake interview and use appropriate personal protective equipment during massage sessions, but soon you may be seeing something new: people who have already had the virus but still suffer potentially debilitating symptoms weeks or months later.

What are Long-Haulers?

At the time this article went to press in mid-October, the U.S. had reported 7.9 million coronavirus cases and 216,000 coronavirus deaths — but some of those people who have recovered have continued to deal with lingering symptoms months after their diagnosis. Public health experts are largely baffled as to how to treat these virus long-haulers, who are providing a glimpse into the as-yet unknown long-term effects of coronavirus, which may include heart disease and other serious problems.

“Anecdotally, there’s no question that there are a considerable number of individuals who have a postviral syndrome that … can incapacitate them for weeks and weeks following so-called recovery and clearing of the virus,” Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, commented during a COVID-19 webinar hosted by the International AIDS Society.

Post-Coronavirus Symptoms to Watch for

Symptoms of this post-viral syndrome include fatigue, shortness of breath, joint and body pain, chest pain, cardiovascular problems, chills and sweats, headaches, brain fog, gastrointestinal issues, cough, lingering loss of taste and smell, and many others. Some symptoms are merely bothersome, while others could result in long-term or permanent disability.

Diana Berrent, founder of the grassroots COVID-19 support and advocacy group Survivor Corps, which has more than 107,000 members, told MASSAGE Magazine that their group, in a survey in partnership with Indiana University School of Medicine, has identified at least 98 symptoms that may affect COVID-19 survivors after the acute phase of the illness has passed. These don’t just affect survivors who had serious cases; many people suffering from these aftereffects only had mild or moderate symptoms when they were first infected, and most did not require hospitalization during their illness.

Natalie Lambert, PhD, the lead researcher on the IU School of Medicine survey, pointed to the need for increased study and understanding of what happens after the acute phase of the virus is over. “The most interesting part to me is the feeling of a lack of recognition for the long-haulers,” said Lambert in an IU press release. “There are so many people suffering from the long-term symptoms, yet employers and even family members are skeptical that these people are still sick … COVID is not necessarily a short-term disease at all.”

COVID-19 infection “ages people decades in a matter of months,” said Berrent. “It’s turning young people into frail, elderly people; it’s tragic.”

In late September, we asked massage therapists in our closed Facebook group (facebook.com/groups/massagemagazine) what kinds of long-term COVID effects they’ve been seeing in their clients. While a majority did not report seeing any of the effects mentioned here, many noted increased anxiety, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, shortness of breath, and cognitive issues (such as dizziness and memory problems).

long haul effects seen in clients

One troubling long-term effect of COVID-19 is myocarditis, inflammation of the heart that can lead to dangerous arrhythmia or even sudden death. Myocarditis is an especially grave concern for college and professional sports teams, several of which have had players affected by heart problems post-COVID; just one notable case is that of 27-year-old Florida State University basketball player Michael Ojo, who collapsed and died during training after recovering from coronavirus, reported CBS News.

Can Integrative Medicine Help?

Many members of Survivor Corps, Berrent said, have shown great interest in alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture to help deal with COVID-related pain and stress that traditional doctors and health experts, concentrating their resources on preventing COVID-19 deaths, simply do not know how to handle.

“The world is focused on the mortality rate — for good reason,” said Berrent, “but we need to be focused on the infection rate, too, and that huge group of people who are reported as recovered who, in fact, are not.

“We could be looking at the largest group of young, disabled Americans in our country’s history.”

About the Author

Allison Payne

Allison M. Payne is a freelance writer and editor based in central Florida. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “MTs Ask: What is Asymptomatic Transmission of Coronavirus and What Does it Mean for My Practice?” and “Questions About Paying Student Loans During the Pandemic? Here’s Where to Find Answers.”