These days a new sector of patients has graced my door – people who are suffering from long Covid. The sequela of post-viral illness is a challenge for eastern and western practitioners alike.
Long Covid means that the person has been experiencing persistent post-viral symptoms that last longer than 12 weeks (Moramarco & Williams, 2022).
Symptoms vary according to individual “long-hauler” and may include brain fog, fatigue, bowel changes, headaches, muscle and/or joint pain, shortness of breath, and anxiety or depression. Fatigue is the most consistently reported symptom according to statistics (Moramarco & Williams, 2022).
In my practice, I have witnessed each and every one of these symptoms, usually seeing some combination that is affecting multiple systems. If symptoms were listed on a menu, they would be categorized more like a soup than as a single serving (pardon my parlance). I say this because usually there are multiple things going on at the same time, probably because the immune system is so connected to every other system in the body. It is not unusual to see joint pain, headaches, and digestive issues all occurring at the same time, and these can also alternate whereby one day the person is feeling very inflamed and the next day they are experiencing headaches or digestive problems, then these abate and a new symptom occurs.
Traditional Chinese medicine treats immune dysregulation in a gentle way. By unblocking the meridians and freeing more flow of lymph and blood, the body can begin to restore its function. The Lung channel is key to immunity because it controls oxygenation to all of the tissues and is linked to the opening and closing of the pores of the skin. Acupuncture to disperse pathogens may still be necessary since the virus can lay dormant and continue to stimulate the immune cells, triggering more inflammation and immune dysregulation (Marx, 2021). Because the Lung is the organ associated with protecting the exterior level of energy of the body, strengthening this function is always a part of the recovery program.
Another important feature of treating long Covid is to address inflammation. The white blood cells tend to overdo their mission of fighting off pathogens and may continue attacking tissues that then become overheated and eventually deteriorate if the heat is not cleared in time.
Heat-clearing herbs and acupuncture work efficiently to clear inflammation and also heal the underlying tissues. Chinese herbs fall into a category all their own in this capacity and are used very specifically for inflammation in the muscles, sinuses, joints, and even organs (Muluye, Bian & Alemu, 2014). Most importantly, when employed for long Covid, they work on different pathways and are not liable to imbalance tissues or have toxic side effects on the body.
Some types of inflammation are chronic, and this is one of the problems with post-viral illness. There can be a type of irritation to the linings of blood vessels for example. Or, a malingering type of heat can develop in the joints or muscles. This latter situation is difficult to treat with western medicine because of persistent swelling. In TCM this is called “Damp-Heat” and there are protocols that can effectively reduce both swelling and pain.
Treating the patterns seen in my practice for those with long Covid is obviously not a one-size-fits-all situation. It requires attention to specific symptoms combined with an understanding of health history and individual signs and symptoms. Each person I have treated is very unique and requires a tailored program. I am happy to report that I have been successful in helping people recover more quickly and even fully resolve some of their symptoms.
A published case study (Hollifield et al., 2022) is a good example of how varied COVID-19 symptoms can be. This study focused on one patient who presented with many dry symptoms, including dry eyes and sinuses, as well as some weird symptoms like soreness in two of her fingers. She also had chest pain and shortness of breath. In this example, points used to nourish yin and send it upwards to the face and eyes were used, namely Lung 7 and Kidney 6. So you can see that each patient is treated differently according to what is being experienced and observed in symptoms.
Stay tuned for future blog posts on the success of using acupuncture and/or herbals for cognitive repercussions of long Covid, such as brain fog and deep fatigue.
An overview of post-viral syndrome. (2021). [Education/News]. Retrieved from https://sma.org/post-viral-syndrome/
Hollifield, M., Cocozza, K., Calloway, T., Lai, J., Caicedo, B., Carrick, K., Alpert, R. & Hsiao, A. (2022) Improvement in long-COVID symptoms using acupuncture: A case study. Medical Acupuncture, 34(3), 172-176. https://doi.org/10.1089/acu.2021.0088
Marx, V. Scientists set out to connect the dots on long COVID. (2021). Nature Methods, 18, 449–453. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41592-021-01145-z
Muluye, R.A., Bian, Y., & Alemu, P.N. (2014).Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects of heat-clearing Chinese herbs: A current review. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 4(2):93-8. doi: 10.4103/2225-4110.126635. PMID: 24860732; PMCID: PMC4003708.