Successfully treating Long-Covid

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By Sam Kankanamge, Osteopath & Founder of Wimpole Street’s Sen Wellness Clinic.

Over the last 12 months, I have successfully treated some 55 patients, aged between 20 and 70, who were suffering from the symptoms of Long-COVID.

In order to treat each patient to the best of my ability, I have consistently kept an eye on the latest medical research and news. Whilst there’s now a picture of Long-COVID symptoms, doctors seem to be advocating a combination of symptom management with a focus on boosting the immune system long-term. I have not been able to discover any evidence-based treatments.

The reason for writing this article is to share what I’ve learnt from treating a wide variety of patients. I want to get the message out that it is possible to treat the most common Long-COVID symptoms of debilitating fatigue and brain fog.

In the UK only a tiny percentage of people who contract COVID need hospital treatment. Most battle the illness at home and it was only in November last year that the NHS announced 40 new clinics opening to study Long-COVID.

Official data suggests that a fifth of people with coronavirus still have symptoms five weeks after becoming infected, with one in ten symptomatic for twelve weeks.  A recent study carried out in Wuhan found that three in four people hospitalised with COVID-19 still had symptoms six months after being discharged. It is troubling to reflect that most of these people have no access to medical advice or treatment and living with their symptoms is likely to aggravate their stress levels with a knock-on impact on their mental health.

Whilst I lead a holistic healthcare centre, my primary training as an osteopath means that I tend to analyse patients from an osteopathic perspective first.  Many people think osteopathy is just structural, solely treating musculoskeletal issues, but in fact goes beyond this to help regulate and optimise health on a multisystemic level treating the nervous, lymphatic, endocrines (hormonal), and immune systems. This multisystemic approach is where Western medicine falls short.

In treating my Long-COVID patients it’s clear they’re not suffering from an isolated issue. Multiple systems, (including multiorgan system, endocrine, lymphatic, nervous and musculoskeletal) have been fatigued and exhausted by the virus.  In response, a holistic and integrative approach has significantly, and at times after a single treatment, aided the recovery of my patients.

CASE STUDY:

Charlotte, 38, contracted COVID-19 in March 2020 and was initially ill for three weeks with fever and breathlessness. After almost completely recovering, further waves of fever followed. Despite the hot weather over the summer months, and usually resilient to the cold, she spent several weeks indoors wrapped up in layers of clothing. Next came the spiralling infections over an eight to 10 week period. Symptoms included sinus and throat infections, which appeared to be localised and were unsuccessfully treated with antibiotics. Three months on from when she first became ill, she suffered from bad headaches and fatigue and sought treatment. After four osteopathy and cranial osteopathy treatments, her health has almost returned to the same as before she caught the virus.

“What was most striking to me was how this was not like normal flu where you would expect to bounce back. I had a severely weakened immune system, resulting in multiple secondary infections, as well as several post-viral symptoms.  I needed an additional intervention and one that treated all the body’s systems. I doubt I would have made a full recovery without these treatments.”

The most widespread symptom among Long-COVID sufferers is muscle fatigue and weak muscle tone underlying the common thread of debilitating fatigue.  This is also common with post-viral chronic fatigue where, before recovery, there’s a chemical process that results in mild inflammation within the musculoskeletal and multiorgan system.

I have consistently detected inflammation of the muscles and connective tissue in my Long-COVID patients. Those who have previously led very physical and active lifestyles find even gentle stretching stressful.  With the musculoskeletal system unable to support the body’s frame, patients experience a general sense of restriction and fatigue.  Many find it difficult to carry out even basic everyday tasks and functions.

CASE STUDY:

Clare, 56, spent two weeks bedridden with the virus in April 2020, with a fever, breathlessness, and extreme fatigue. She had rashes on her fingers and toes, and her sense of taste and smell were also altered. Further knocks to her health came in four waves over the next month, including debilitating tiredness and hot flushes. After this, she was able to resume some of her usual daily tasks. However, she began to suffer from aches and pains, particularly in her hips and coccyx. A course of treatments has been focused on addressing the muscle fatigue and weak muscle tone endemic to Long-Covid and chronic fatigue syndrome with osteopathic techniques and acupuncture.

In the past, I’ve been highly responsive to treatment at the Clinic for aches and pains. What has struck me, in this case, is how much the virus has exacerbated these underlying issues. The long-tail impact of the virus has really weakened my muscles. Each time I have a treatment, I make progress and get stronger. Now that I’m almost back to full health, I’m increasing my yoga practice and returning to gardening, and I’m hopeful that soon I’ll l be able to resume these activities to the same level as before.”

My cranial osteopathic training enables me to work beyond the musculoskeletal system to analyse the movement and alignment of the central nervous, glandular, lymphatic and multiorgan system.  Long-COVID patients often present with a congested lymphatic system, which is unsurprising as this is one of the most active defensive mechanisms under viral attack.  Patients I have treated consistently present with exhausted lymphatic systems, especially in the major lymph glands.

In healthy central nervous systems the spinal fluid has a natural coiling and uncoiling motion, similar to the pulse of the cardiovascular system.   In Long-COVID patients, the fluid feels static and congested, as does their connective tissue.  In a similar way the multiorgan system, from intestinal tissues to reproductive organs, feel congested and tight.

The impact on sufferers’ lungs and breathing is also palpable in patients who present with deflated lungs, lack of fluid within the lung tissue itself and physical tiredness of the diaphragm.  Whilst not all patients present with these symptoms, those who do face ongoing difficulties with breathing normally. Chronic fatigue is, however, the most common thread.

 Scientific research into chronic fatigue syndrome now attributes fatigue to changes to normal cellular function. This is because our mitochondria, the part of our cells responsible for producing most of the body’s energy, cannot effectively function after defending against external pathogens during a viral attack.

The insights and professional knowledge I have accumulated in treating a wide spectrum of patients over the past 25 years has allowed me to go much deeper with my patients to provide a genuinely holistic and effective treatment programme.  This depth has been invaluable preparation for the influx of Long-COVID patients over the last few months.

Over the years I have seen that people with weaker immune systems find they cannot recover from a strong post-viral infection, often developing chronic fatigue symptoms.  Right now, a similar pattern is occurring with Long-COVID.  The strength of this virus is sending the immune system into reactivity where it becomes exhausted attempting to fight off the virus.  The adrenal and autonomic nervous systems, also central to the response, become depleted and chronic fatigue type symptoms follow.   Interestingly, this is a consistent response that doesn’t seem to be related to the initial spectrum of mild to severe COVID symptoms.

Overshadowing the physical symptoms reported, the emotional and mental impact of COVID-19, especially on those battling long-term symptoms, has been less frequently discussed.  When I look into my patients’ eyes I can immediately detect the significant mental and emotional strain they are under anxiety at living for as long as they have with these symptoms, no solutions despite consulting their usual medical professionals, often compounded by being separated from their wider support network.

The impact of anxiety and stress on the body is palpable. The nervous system is strained and depleted and there is an obvious tension in the face and head. High levels of fear, anxiety, stress, and grief all impact our physical health, blocking full recovery, which is why the role of holistic care is so important.

The purpose of sharing my experience is to offer a new perspective for the treatment of Long-COVID, one that will help people realise they don’t need to suffer and that effective support is available.

The holistic approach to treatment is fundamentally different from a Western medical approach in that it goes beyond the physical to encompass the mind, emotions and spirit.  As we know, a virus affects more than just one system in the body.  When you are also presented with mental and emotional stressors the treatment needs to address the whole person to be effective.

The holistic approach does this as well as taking into account the uniqueness of each individual.  As a skilled practitioner, I am looking to understand every aspect of my patient to develop a tailored treatment programme with the precise interventions they need to recover and thrive. For me, there are a variety of modalities and treatments that can be combined to optimize results.  Over the years I have successfully worked with osteopathy, cranial osteopathy and acupuncture to support chronic fatigue syndrome patients.

Osteopathy is already well known for helping with musculoskeletal issues. There are techniques to improve alignment, movement and restore fluid to joints, muscles and connective tissues. However, where tightness and constriction are caused by fatigue rather than injury, recovery can be a prolonged process so there is value in also drawing on other techniques.

Cranial osteopathy can help stimulate and ease stagnation in the lymphatic and glandular systems. It can be utilised to assist the lungs and respiratory organ system, with specific techniques to improve lung function and strengthen the intercostal and diaphragm muscles. I have found cranial techniques extremely effective for treating the ‘brain fog’ many Long-COVID sufferers have been afflicted with. These techniques have released pressure in the connective tissues and nerves around the brain and tightness in the facial muscles.

CASE STUDY:

Rachel, 32, tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020, and had mild to moderate symptoms for two weeks, including a headache, tiredness, and a slight cough. After an initial two weeks of illness, she believed she was fully recovered. However, for the next 10 weeks, a cycle of intermittent debilitating ‘brain fog’ and extreme fatigue followed. Unable to sustain mental concentration, she could only work 10 hours a week in this period. During her first session at Sen Wellness Clinic, it was immediately clear that her dura, the outer layer of connective tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord, had become extremely tight and contracted under attack from the virus. Applying cranial osteopathic techniques to her head eased this cranial pressure with immediate effect.

I felt like a totally different person leaving the Clinic from the one who had entered. It was almost unbelievable to experience such a dramatic shift in the space of an hour. After nearly three months of stress and worry, not knowing when I’d recover, I’m no longer plagued by ‘brain fog’, and I have regained my previous energy levels, and ability to focus.”

Acupuncture is also effective in treating chronic fatigue syndrome. Research from the BMJ notes that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been ‘applied widely, and has played substantial roles in the management of COVID-19 in China.’ In my practice,  I use traditional five elements of acupuncture to target specific meridian points in the body which also helps to facilitate the physiological changes that my osteopathic work is focused on.

There are also some lifestyle elements that sufferers can consider to support their recovery. In other circumstances, my opinion is that vitamins, supplements and herbal medicines are overrated. However, I think Long-COVID patients would benefit from additional support, specifically Vitamin B complex, which feeds into the nervous system, and Vitamin C to boost the immune system. It might be wise to analyse vitamin levels via blood sampling for further clarification. Breathing exercises are also worth exploring, and there are now a plethora of online resources and practitioners to draw support from.

To make a full recovery, we also need to look at the effect of any illness on confidence, anxiety and stress levels. I work closely with patients offering guidance on how to pace themselves when getting back to work. This is particularly important given today’s screen-heavy lives and the screen aversion that those with ‘brain fog’ and fatigue naturally have. I believe it’s also valuable to use some energy reserves spending time in nature and, if restrictions allow, spending time with and getting support from good friends.

I am writing this to offer some hope to those suffering from Long-COVID who may currently believe their situation is hopeless.  There are effective treatments available and it is possible to recover within a relatively short time frame.  I would encourage everyone to seek the necessary support for musculoskeletal, glandular and lymphatic systems to recover. Without this, recovery will potentially take many more months.

I would recommend finding a local holistic practitioner, osteopath or acupuncturist, ideally recommended by word of mouth.  If they have a history of successfully treating patients with chronic fatigue, even better.

There is a limit to what can be achieved via a screen. Over 25 years I have repeatedly seen that healing happens more easily when my patient is in my consulting room. The practitioner can provide a reassuring presence and the benefits of being able to look into a patient’s eyes, feel the connection and empathy as human-to-human, cannot be underestimated.

For those who are truly unable to access professional help from a holistic practitioner, there are some DIY techniques you can do at home. You are welcome to contact us at the Clinic for more advice. www.senwellnessclinic.co.uk

 

Sources:

NHS England, ‘NHS launches 40 ‘long COVID’ clinics to tackle persistent symptoms’,

The Guardian, ‘Long Covid alarms as 21% report symptoms after five weeks’, 

Huffington Post, ‘3 in 4 Covid Hospital Patients Struggling With Long Covid Six Months Later’, 

ITV, ‘Long Covid: What is it, what are the symptoms and what help is there for sufferers?’ 

The ME Association: ‘MEA Summary Review: The role of Mitochondria in ME/CFS’, 12th July 2019, 

BMJ: ‘Rapid Response: Traditional Chinese Medicine for COVID-19’ 

Sam Kankanamge

Sam Kankanamge BSc (Hons) Osteo, DPO, Dip.Acu is an exceptional, world renowned healthcare professional, with over 25 years-experience transforming patients’ health, and has been called ‘the best back specialist in the country’ by The Times (2014).

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Jonathan Z. Lee
Jonathan Z. Lee
14:57 25 Oct 22
What an incredible, transformative week at Sen Wellness. A beautiful coccoon for the soul, in such a beautiful location. It's hard to describe what happens here, with the great yoga sessions, personalized Ayurvedic treatments, workshops, meditations, ceremonies, and mindful diet...it just all works together to provide a healing experience, one which expands the mind and heart, and gives the soul room to breathe. Stress lines and wrinkles noticeably vanished from everyone's faces over a few days, bodies began to unfold and stand strong once more, and smiles continued to grow day after day. Everyone at the center was incredibly kind and attentive, and it was a joy every morning to greet them. Madhu at the main desk was a ray of sunshine, Dr Harnika radiated peace and warmth, and all the therapists and kitchen staff took such good care of us. A very special thank you to our yoga teacher (and SO much more) Jamie, who helped to create a safe and nurturing space while helping us to free our bodies and minds. She is an exceptional guide, and a powerful beam of light, helping strangers from all over the world turn into a supportive community. And such deep gratitude for Arjuna who has what can only be described as the most healing hands, who helped me work through my chronic pain of 10+ years in such an intuitive manner - I'm still speechless!!Thank you so much Sen for helping so many people in deeply personal ways. 🙏
Manuela Capelle
Manuela Capelle
14:54 25 Oct 22
Thank you Sen Wellness for providing an outstanding stay for Jon and myself. It really felt like a warm cocoon, a safe space to be guided towards our essence, to feel nurtured, grounded, healthy, and to be allowed to just be. The yoga was very integrative to all levels, and Jamie helped us understand and integrate the true meaning of yoga beyond the classes. The ceremonies led by Jamie and Arjuna were so great and genuine heart openers for people from all walks of life. Arjuna’s massages were out of this world, and with a lot of love.Beyond this, the whole staff was incredibly friendly - every single one of them.Madhu’s smile simply unforgettable. Best wishes and we will hopefully be back very soon!!
Paula Alves Silva
Paula Alves Silva
11:42 20 Oct 22
I did not write a comment immediately after my retreat because I was looking for the perfect words to describe the beautiful and deep experience I lived at Sen Wellness Sanctuary. You might choose this place because you feel in a certain way but independently of the cause that might bring you there the truth is that you will leave with a clear, light and peaceful body and soul. At Sen Wellness Sanctuary I felt that everyone works towards making that space a home away from your home. The kindness and perfectionism that the staff provides is rare to find. By investing in Sen Wellness Sanctuary you are also investing in the community. The owner's philosophy of making the staff a priority really made the difference for me.The beautiful classes and ceremonies provided by Jamie Sol are undoubtedly memorable. I felt an immediate connection with the teachers and there are lessons that I for sure won't forget. Starting from the interior to the exterior, all Ayurvedic treatments brought me the feeling of floating. I felt many times that I was reborn over and over again. And I can not end this review without mentioning the unity created in the space between its architecture and nature to really create a unity between the all. I left with a tight heart because I really felt at home. The morning tee watching the sunrise from the cabana, the long walks between the empty beach and the immense lagoon, yoga while the sun goes up, the delicious (really delicious) food, the laughs, the sound of birds and monkeys playing around, the chat and meditation with the monk, the sky filled with stars, the reading by the pool, the long conversations, the sunbath by the stairs while waiting for treatments. The many many smiles. Oh I could go back in a glimpse.
Bożena Teclaf
Bożena Teclaf
15:45 18 Oct 22
I had a wonderful stay at Sen Wellness Sanctuary. I was traveling solo and honestly this retreat was more than I thought I ever needed. Everything - from facilities, food, treatments was just great. You can feel this amazing hospitality from the moment you step through their gates.What is important to mention - I am on a strict gluten free diet and the kitchen staff took every effort to accommodate my dietary requirements. They even made a special GF cake for my birthday!Big shoutout to Jamie and Arjuna - such a lovely teachers and mentors - I have learned so much from them about yoga, meditation, energy healing and more.To the whole staff (and especially the ones I was not able to say goodbye to) - thank you from the bottom of my heart. People are the ones who make places special and you were all so incredible and kind. I received so much love and care when celebrating my birthday there - something I will cherish forever.Everything was organized with lots of care. My transfer from and to the airport was very smooth. The area is very safe and honestly I can't recommend the retreat enough.
Gerti van Lier
Gerti van Lier
14:41 16 Oct 22
My retreat at Sen Wellness Sanctuary was exactly what I needed after 2,5 years Covid with full time home working. I was tired, both mentally and physically. As I wanted to completely disconnect from my day to day life, I chose for the 14 day package. It was the best thing I did to recover from these 2,5 years.The staff at Sen Wellness is very friendly and welcoming, from yoga teachers to the kitchen staff and therapists. I had an excellent yoga teacher Jamie, who also guided the ceremonies. We did a fire ceremony, water ceremony and a new moon ceremony. The new moon ceremony was very special. It was like Jamie sensed what I needed. Movement, dance, energy, joy, life! Perfect!The food was excellent, every meal a great variety of dishes. Even the few days that I had the luxury to be the only guest, I had at least 7 dishes for lunch and dinner.I loved the treatments, my favorite was the shirodhara. This oil treatment you have to experience. Words cannot express this experience, you float, lose track of time and space. And let's not forget the joint treatment, loosening your whole body.The yoga classes went beyond the physical postures. There was a lot of attention for both body and soul, with breathing exercises and meditation. And let’s not forget joy. The last day we went at sun rise to the beach to take pictures of my achievement. It was not about the achievement, it was about the joy of life we shared together.A retreat at Sen Wellness is a treat and transformation for body and soul.
Sonia Champagne
Sonia Champagne
18:20 11 Sep 22
I attended to summer retreat and this center offered me so much more than I expected. First of all, I was not sure at all of travelling to Sri Lanka from Canada, but all is good, you can travel with no fear, it was a perfect experience, from beginning to end.I have been taking care of from the most caring, knowledgeable, open hearted, and wonderful people that have made my journey at the center a exceptionnel experience.You can trust, that this center will bring you what you need, at the perfect timing in your life.
marleen blanson henkemans
marleen blanson henkemans
09:15 04 Sep 22
I stayed at Sen Wellness for the special golden summer retreat in August 2022. It was everything I was looking for: expanding my knowledge of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda. More importantly, it helped me connect with myself. The people that have built this amazing place between the ocean and jungle are so kind and welcoming. Everything is taken care off and the staff really ensures you get a wonderful experience. The food is amazing and I never felt healthier. The yoga and meditation teachers Jamie and Ardyuna who were there at the time, made the experience even more special. With their knowledge and experience, the experience was even more special. Thank you Sen Wellness for helping me connect with myself on a deeper level. I would highly recommend this relaxing and special experience to everyone.Even though Sri Lanka was in the middle of an economic crisis while I was there, this did not affect my trip in any way. The country is safe to travel to and I would recommend everyone to do so!
Dominika M
Dominika M
18:02 20 Jun 22
Everything at the highest level.A unique, authentic place at the highest level.Atmosphere, ambience, food, treatments, doctors, yoga, accommodation - ideal place for retreat for body, soul and mind.5 nights there is an absolute minimum:)Thank you Sen Wellness Sanctuary and see you soon
Grant Munro
Grant Munro
00:09 19 Jun 22
Sam and the team and SEN Wellness have done a fantastic job of creating a space for healing, rejuvenation and connecting to natureI spent 10 days at the sanctuary in April and to this day I am still struggling to put the experience in to words that could do it justice..!The whole experience there was truly magical - from the location and immersion in nature, the daily structure, community with other guests, the food, yoga and cacao ceremony. Not only was there opportunities to experience and heal during the stay but I also felt there was so much I was able to learn and take away / take back in to 'normal' life to continue the process.Litsa - the yoga teacher during our stay - was incredible at holding space and taking the group where they needed to go as a collective and really opened my eyes to another depth of yoga that I didn't know existed.I'd recommend SEN Wellness Sanctuary in a heartbeat and felt privileged to witness and be a small part of the the transformations I saw in people through their stay. Thank you!
Thanu Yakupitiyage
Thanu Yakupitiyage
16:48 18 May 22
Sen Wellness Sanctuary was exactly what I needed to start my healing journey with myself. I did the 7 day package (and honestly kind of wish I had done the 10 day instead.) I came to Sen feeling the stress and trauma of the last 3 years of the pandemic and working long hours at a remote job for an international NGO. I came with the intention to focus on my health issues, recommit to a yoga and meditation practice, and explore with ayurvedic practitioners some of my health issues that had developed due to stress. I am happy to say I got what I came for.The staff of the sanctuary - from the front desk coordinators and managers to the ayurvedic doctor to the ayurvedic practitioners, and service staff and cooks were so kind and helpful, attending to any issue that might arise. In particular I'd like to thank Dr. Harnika (the doctor), Madhu & Neeranjana (front desk coordinators), Prema (who served tea every morning), Rupika (my ayurvedic practitioner), and all the other ayurvedic practitioners and wait staff boys who helped serve food, clean rooms, etc.I also had consultations with Sam Kankanamge, the founder, at my request ahead of booking to discuss some of my needs, as well as with Davia, an international coordinator. I found everyone to be very responsive, which I appreciated.The yoga instructor, Litsa, who led the morning and evening yoga classes and meditation during my stay was incredible and I learnt a lot from her practice and really appreciated my one-on-one with her. The use of sound meditation/healing via the use of a gong was really amazing as well. Litsa really helped to focus those of us at the retreat on our healing journey. She was a real rock. Her yoga practice is really spiritual, nurturing, and also high intensity, which I really enjoyed. (Note that the yoga practitioners rotate, so I'm speaking towards the person who was there during my stay.)The ayurvedic treatments and acupuncture were divine and a lot of care was taken to do them well. I felt relaxed and refreshed after all of them.As someone of Sri Lankan descent who now lives in the United States, it was really healing for me to get the kind of care I wanted in my mother country. I felt really taken care of and respected, and I'm glad I invested in myself by coming to this retreat.I also appreciated the international nature of the retreat - and made many lovely friendships through the experience with other guests who were there at the same time. There's a special kind of bonding and relationship building that happens from eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner together with all the guests at one long table, which I appreciated.The food served at the retreat is super healthy - a lot of typical Sri Lankan dishes, primarily vegan. I enjoyed the variety in the menus. I even enjoyed the juice cleanses I partook in.If you're looking for a typical "holiday" that's not what you're going to get here. This felt like a very spiritual and intentional sanctuary, particularly for people who are trying to heal themselves and take care of themselves. Having done the research before heading to Sen, I got exactly what I was hoping for and more -- be prepared to put in work and to be committed to the journey.In addition, Rekawa Beach, which is a few minutes walk from the Sanctuary is one of the most stunning and tranquil beaches I have ever seen. While it isn't necessarily safe to swim, it was really healing to go there early morning and evening to watch sunrises and sunsets. This is a turtle nesting beach and it was truly a joy to watch massive turtles lay their eggs on the beach, a once in a lifetime opportunity.I also really enjoyed a boat ride through Rekawa Lagoon, the sounds of the mangroves, and the sweet monkeys who watch you from the trees when you do yoga in the shalet.While it's a difficult time for Sri Lanka, I highly encourage people to support the economy, invest in your own well-being and healing, and experience this very intentional and caring retreat.
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