Conserving energy, keeping mobile & exercising

Following COVID, some people find walking difficult and may experience significant shortness of breath on exertion. Set short realistic goals, for example: walking to the toilet at first, increase the distance you walk indoors perhaps to the front door, and progress this as you feel able. When you do start to go outside remember to monitor how far you walk as wherever you walk to, you will require enough energy to walk back.

If you are finding climbing the stairs difficult you might want to consider downstairs living until your energy levels improve. An Occupational Therapist can provide equipment such as a commode if you require this for downstairs living. You can access this help by speaking with your GP, getting in touch with your Occupational Therapists or local social services team.

Many people will have had some aches and pains before getting ill with COVID. Being unwell may have made these problems come back or get worse, this is because joints and muscles are better when we move frequently. When unwell with COVID people are less active than usual. This can cause aches and pains, stiffness and muscle weakness. Muscle weakness can lead to difficulties with activities such as standing, climbing stairs, gripping objects with your hands or lifting your arms above your head.  Some of the treatments that were needed during your COVID illness may have put extra stresses and strains on some of your joints and muscles. These may have caused new or increased joint and muscle problems.

Some of the most common problems after being unwell with COVID are shoulder and back problems, but joint and muscle problems can occur in any part of the body. Some people have widespread aching that can come and go for a time as you recover. Some people also have odd or altered feelings such as numbness or pins and needles and weakness in the arms or legs.

Some people experience severe shoulder and arm problems after COVID, especially those who have been in hospital. These problems can be a combination of pain, stiffness, numbness in the arms and weakness in some muscles. If you have been given advice or treatment about your arm problem in hospital you should continue to follow that advice. Many of these problems will improve as you get better, but if you have severe problems contact your doctor’s surgery to talk to a doctor or physiotherapist.

You should aim to get back to your usual activities. Try to gradually increase the amount of movement and activity you do. Joints and muscles are designed to move but you need to pace yourself and rest when you need to. Also, take into account any other symptoms you may have, such as fatigue and your breathing. Try to do a bit more each day. Over time you should find you can do more and more.

It is safe to exercise after COVID unless you have been told not to by a health professional, such as a doctor or physiotherapist. Aim for a balance between exercise/activity and rest. At first you may have to rest more frequently. As you improve you should be able to stay more active and do more exercise. Physical activity is generally good for everyone and too much rest can make joint and muscle problems worse.

You should gradually increase the amount of the following:

  • General physical activity (including all the activities you usually do: washing and dressing yourself, housework, gardening, hobbies and work). Aim to gradually return to your usual routine by starting with the easier activities and then slowly introducing the more physical ones.
  • Exercise: Strengthening and flexibility exercises will help your joint and muscle problems.

(Examples of flexibility activities include: Stretching, by moving your joints as far as you can several times a day; Yoga; Tai Chi. Strengthening exercises are any activities that make your muscles work harder than usual e.g. climbing stairs; lifting weights; working with resistance bands; gardening activities such as digging; walking uphill; cycling)

It is also important to change your position often, limiting the amount of time you stay in one position, such as sitting or looking at tablets and mobile phones. If you find your symptoms are worse in a certain position, find a more comfortable position or move around for a while.

Simple painkillers and creams you can buy at the chemist may help, but you should always ask the pharmacist for advice on what you should use. If you are taking any other tablets or medicines check with the pharmacist or your doctor before taking any new medicines.

You should seek immediate help from your doctor or physiotherapist if you have severe pain, numbness or weakness in your arms or legs that stops you following the advice on this page.

Contact your GP surgery to talk to a doctor or physiotherapist if:

For more information see:—ces-card-pdf.pdf?sfvrsn=114b7059_2

More information on how to self-manage your joint and muscle problems is available at: