Image of COVID
Image of COVID

Will You Start Seeing More Clients With Long-Haul COVID Symptoms?

Will You Start Seeing More Clients With Long-Haul COVID Symptoms?

As we surpass two years of living with COVID-19, what we know about the disease continues to evolve. As more people continue to get the virus, medical professionals are also seeing more cases of post-COVID syndrome.

Also known colloquially as long-haul COVID, the CDC defines post-COVID syndrome as a “wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Post-COVID syndrome can affect anyone, even those who had mild or no symptoms initially. The research on who develops post-COVID syndrome is not consistent, with some estimating one-quarter to one-third of patients develop some form of post-COVID while others suggest about half of all people who get COVID will suffer from at least one long-haul symptom.

Because there is currently no cure for post-COVID syndrome, however, many people are looking for integrative health care options, including massage therapy, to help manage some of the more troublesome symptoms of long-haul COVID.

What Are Some of the Most Common Symptoms of Long-haul COVID?

A recent study on post-COVID syndrome that evaluated patients with symptoms that persisted for at least four weeks after initial diagnosis found the main symptoms and signs of post-COVID syndrome reported by the 29 participants were fatigue (86%) and muscle pain (62%). More than half of the subjects reported having at least three symptoms, with severe functional disability and moderate to severe limitation seen in 48% and 75% of the patients respectively.1

Kristen Gutierrez, who first contracted COVID-19 in September 2020, says fatigue, brain fog, headaches, shortness of breath, and muscle pain are all a part of what she deals with as a long-haul COVID sufferer. All of this is after a two-month struggle with her initial symptoms that included fever, body aches, chest pain, and insomnia.

Her first clue that something might be wrong was noticing that some of her symptoms continued to linger after she returned to work. “I noticed I just couldn’t keep up with what was once my normal pace. I was still struggling with simple tasks like walking or focusing on my assignments,” Gutierrez says. “Brain fog was a major concern. I reached out to my primary care physician after a week or so to see if this was normal or if there was anything that could help me heal faster.”

Mark Haegele Jr. also found that his COVID symptoms seemed to stretch into long-haul territory after his initial bout with COVID that included a mild fever, cough, and headaches. “I lost my sense of taste for two weeks,” he adds.

Can Massage Therapy Help Long-haul COVID Sufferers?

Both Gutierrez and Haegele turned to massage therapy to help manage their long-haul symptoms. Haegele was looking for relief from his neck and shoulder pain and Gutierrez was hoping to find some relief from muscle aches in her back, neck, and legs, as well as the bad headaches she was experiencing.

After discussing their issues with their massage therapists and developing a session plan, both Gutierrez and Haegele found relief from their symptoms quickly.

“The first session helped. It provided immediate relief of the headache I was experiencing, and my body felt much better than it did before the massage,” says Gutierrez. “Honestly, that night was the first time I slept for more than five hours in a row in a span of six months.”

“After the third session I felt much better,” Haegele says. “I was able to focus better at work as my neck pain and shoulder pain were eliminated. I also felt like my sinuses were improved.” Haegele continues to see his massage therapist monthly and is hoping to incorporate more massage focused on stress relief and aromatherapy. “I am still concerned about the full recovery of smell and taste,” he says. “I think there could be a more defined approach to aromatherapy included in the massage sessions.”

Gutierrez, too, continues to see her massage therapist at least two times a month, sometimes three depending on her schedule, down from weekly when she first started. “Prior to this diagnosis, I never really considered self-care a priority. This journey has taught me a lot, and the number one lesson is to listen to your body and put yourself first,” she says. “There are so many benefits to massage therapy. Aside from helping to relieve my symptoms, it also helps me reduce stress, enhance relaxation, and gives me the time to stop and just be in the moment.”

Massage Techniques for Long-haul COVID: What Massage Therapists Need to Know

Lily Hughes, a lead massage therapist with MassageLuXe, says that breathing issues, sinus pressure, and overall weakness are the most common longhaul symptoms clients are looking for help relieving. “Massage is good for circulation, which helps these issues while also relieving the stress associated with long-haul COVID,” she says.

Alex Pimentel, also a massage therapist with MassageLuXe, sees clients who have trouble breathing, along with a continued lack of taste and smell, frequent headaches, dizziness, and ringing in the ears. “Most are regular clients who happen to have long-term symptoms,” Pimentel says.

As with any massage session, thorough intake is key. “I do a very thorough intake consultation,” says Pimentel. “Listening is key to picking up on a client’s needs.” Hughes adds that intake to better understand a client’s symptoms and current medication helps massage therapists individualize their approach to a massage session. “We personalize our massage to fit their needs,” she explains.

For example, Hughes finds tapotement is particularly beneficial for clients who have trouble breathing. Pimentel uses compression and aromatherapy. “For those with breathing issues, I spend extra time while they are face down doing compression around the lungs while they deep breathe to expand and strengthen the lungs and provide more oxygenation,” Pimentel explains. “Certain aromatherapies can also assist with opening the airways.”

When working with clients with headaches or body aches, however, work on the neck and scalp, as well as pressure points on hands and feet, tend to see the best results. “Most massage techniques are good for blood circulation, which helps improve muscle strength,” Hughes adds.

Both Pimentel and Hughes encourage other massage therapists to consider how they might help clients trying to manage long-haul COVID. “First and foremost, don’t be afraid of working on them,” Pimentel explains. “Really listen to their complaints and develop a massage plan—and subsequent sessions—that will address their needs.”

“As massage therapists, we are improving our clients’ quality of life, no matter the symptoms they are experiencing,” Hughes says.


Tejerina F, Catalan P, Rodriguez-Grande C, Adan J, Rodriguez-Gonzalez R, Munoz P, Aldamiz T, Diez C, Perez L, Fanciulli C, Garcia de Viedma D. “Post-COVID-19 syndrome. SARS_CoV-2 RNA detection in plasma, stool, and urine in patients with persistent symptoms after COVID-19.BMC Infect Dis. 2022 Mar 3;22(1):211.

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