COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down.

While everyone has experienced the inconvenient side effects of social distancing and mask-wearing, there is a significant but little-reported side effect for many who have been hospitalized or prescribed prolonged bed rest as they fight the virus.

Bone and muscle loss can be an indirect side effect of a severe COVID-19 infection.

During a prolonged illness, recovery from surgery, or pregnancy complications, months of enforced bed rest impact all systems of the body – one of these areas is the musculoskeletal system. Immobilization can cause bones to weaken and muscles to atrophy.

Just a few weeks of bed rest can affect muscle strength. Some researchers estimate people lose half of their strength if they are on bed rest for three to five weeks.

During this same period, bones can start losing minerals due to a condition known as disuse osteoporosis.

Can you recover from bone and muscle loss?

Yes! If the immobility is limited to just a few months, people can recover and regain strength.

But after a severe illness like COVID-19, it will take time. It usually takes four weeks or more to regain muscle strength after extended periods of immobility.

Health care providers and physical therapists know it’s crucial to avoid the serious adverse effects of prolonged bed rest. They work to get patients up and moving as soon as possible by creating personalized exercise plans based on each patient’s condition, needs, and lifestyle.

If you’re recovering from a prolonged illness, you may need to start with deep breathing exercises to increase your lung capacity before moving on to other activities.

If you are still on bed rest, there may be exercises that you can do while lying down. Once you have clearance to move around a bit more, you’ll move to seated activities and then onto weight-bearing exercises.

It’s always best to check with your health care provider before starting any exercise program.

Be patient with your progress.

After a long, movement-limiting illness, it will take time for your body to recover.

You may find that you get tired doing simple things. Just walking from your living room chair to the bathroom may require a rest on the way.

Be aware of the immobility cycle. It can create motivational obstacles for some people. The loss of strength and endurance combined with feelings of fatigue and depression make it hard for some people to work up the energy to do the prescribed exercises.

Physical therapy can help patients in the hospital and after they go home.

People who have been hospitalized because of COVID-19 or who have been prescribed bed rest at home may find it hard to stand, walk, or be active.

Patients may experience these symptoms if they spent a week or more in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Often patients who have experienced the life-saving care needed in the ICU also experience a condition known as ICU-acquired body weakness or post-intensive care syndrome.

Physical therapy can help people who experience decreased mobility associated with an ICU stay.

A certified physical therapist will develop a personalized plan to help the person work toward health and movement.

Physical therapists specialize in body mechanics to help people regain strength, increase flexibility, and restore independence. The work is hard at times and will require patients to do their homework between physical therapy sessions, but it will be worth it. As muscle starts to respond to the added stress of activity, it begins to build more fibers and use more oxygen.

It is possible to build muscle mass – for anyone at any age.

If you or a loved one have had a prolonged time of bed rest, contact a physical therapist, and create a plan to get moving again.

When you’re feeling better, and have clearance from your health care providers, you can add some weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening exercises to your week. Here are some things that you can do to build strength, increase balance, and flexibility.

• Yoga
• Push-ups
• Squats
• Sit-ups
• Dance
• Walking up hills or stairs
• Weight training using hand weights or resistance bands

Bone & Joint’s physical therapists can work with you to create a muscle-strengthening plan to help you get your strength back again – safely.