Did COVID-19 Affect Rehabilitation Therapy?

People with a spinal cord injury (SCI) are at a heightened risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms. Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs, those with decreased lung capacity are unable to clear their lungs effectively.


With the risks associated with COVID-19, those in the SCI community are concerned about their vulnerability to the illness and how it is being addressed. One of these concerns is the availability of therapeutic services before and after contracting COVID-19.

COVID-19 and Rehabilitation

Before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, access to rehabilitation therapies was widely available. For some, participating in rehabilitation services served a dual purpose: physical and mental well-being. Once social isolation regulations were enacted, many could not receive the much-needed services. The lack of interaction with others or access to care created adverse behavioral, mental, and physical side effects.

Mental Health

Not everyone is impacted the same by COVID-19. Those in vulnerable populations, like the SCI community, have an increased risk of mental health disorders.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported findings regarding COVID-19’s impact on mental health. The findings showed that those who were infected with COVID-19 experienced detrimental side effects. Some of the side effects include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Brain fog


The fear of becoming ill or not knowing the status of COVID-19 symptoms, aftereffects, or end of regulations weighed heavily on some. Data released by the CDC finds that mental health disorders are more likely to occur months after infection with COVID-19. Some people are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those with Long-term COVID-19 are at an increased risk of symptoms linked to mental health and brain function.

Members of an SCI support group comprised of those with cervical and thoracic injuries discussed how COVID-19 affected their rehabilitation.

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They discussed how the psychological impact of fear affected them more than receiving rehabilitation. The group members aren’t alone in reacting to fear of catching COVID-19. Many people changed their daily habits, and some made plans to protect themselves and loved ones if they or a loved one should become ill.

One member discussed how fear changed his social interactions with others. He didn’t leave his home for three months, even going so far as to buy a second refrigerator to store food he ordered in bulk. Another member explained that his rehabilitation wasn’t interfered with, but he is still afraid to be around people and continues to wear a mask.

A positive effect of COVID-19 is the increased availability of telehealth services. Mental health and medical professionals can be accessed regardless of where anyone is.

Adverse Physical Side Effects

Not everyone experienced little to no physical side effects after COVID-19. Some of the members said the effects felt during rehabilitation from COVID-19 were much like the aftereffects of the flu or a cold. Many report when they receive rehabilitation therapy, they have severe joint and/or muscle pain. John Berkey, a Board member of Easterseals of Southwest Florida and the Suncoast Center for Independent Living, discussed his rehabilitation experience after COVID-19. He states,

Covid did impact my rehab or had a role at least.   I had Covid in November a couple of years ago.  I had all my vax.  I also did an update on my flu/pneumonia vax as well. Then, in December, I found out my brother-in-law had a shingles flare.  Since I would see him at Christmas, I got a shingles shot.  Within four hours, I had a reaction.  Two years later and two rounds of PT, I still suffer from severe joint pain from that day in three of my four extremities.”

Whether the aftereffects of COVID-19 were physical and/or mental, the impact on receiving rehabilitation was felt by many. If you are experiencing any of the aftereffects of COVID-19, speak with your doctor about receiving care.

Christina Sisti, DPS, MPH, MS, is a bioethicist and health care policy advocate. She works to create awareness and improve healthcare policy for those with long-term health issues.

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to information@christopherreeve.org

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

This publication was supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as part of a financial assistance award totaling $160,000 with 100% funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS or the U.S. government.