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CMU researchers find ‘surprising’ effects of COVID-19 fatigue on posture, movement

University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy

Even people who think they’ve recovered from COVID-19 can have trouble with basic physical tasks for months after their infection, according to early results from a study at Central Michigan University.

Ksenia Ustanova, a professor in CMU’s physical therapy department, observes study participants as they stand on a platform that measures their center of gravity. People who are growing fatigued start swaying even as they try to stand still, Ustanova said, and people recovering from COVID-19 are often surprised at how quickly they tire.

“They don’t realize how fatigue affects their body even after they feel that they’ve recovered,” Ustanova said. “You feel much more energetic. You feel that, ‘Okay, the disease is over now, I’m getting back, I could do whatever I want, I could get back to my normal life.’ Apparently not.”

Most people in the study are able to perform at their normal level within three months of their COVID-19 symptoms clearing up, Ustanova said, but the study is a reminder that for many people, recovery from the disease is a slow process.

The delayed return to basic functions can affect people’s self-image and mental health, Ustanova said, so doctors and therapists should take that into account when they’re talking with COVID-19 patients.

As COVID-19 cases decrease in Michigan, Ustanova said it’s getting harder to find participants for the research. But once flu season hits this fall, she said she expects that virus will create a new set of potential study participants whose posture and movements she can compare to COVID-19 patients.

Brett joined Michigan Public in December 2021 as an editor.
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