Long COVID suffering – How TCM can help to alleviate symptoms

With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, it has become quite common to experience COVID and its lingering post-COVID symptoms, drawing concern to the potential long-term health effects. It can be quite worrying and frustrating for those who are unable to pinpoint or relieve their symptoms even several months after recovery. This article aims to share some TCM tips and treatments that can help to alleviate symptoms and speed up recovery. What are post-COVID conditions?  According to the World Health Organization1, Post-COVID conditions (also known as “long COVID”) is a wide collection of long-term symptoms experienced by people who have had a history of probable or confirmed COVID-19 infection. These symptoms last for at least 2 months, and usually manifest within 3 months from the onset of COVID-19. Also, the symptoms and effects of post COVID-19 condition cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.  Although majority of the people who develop COVID-19 fully recover within a few weeks, there is still a small yet significant percentage of people who experience a combination of mid- and long-term effects even after they have recovered from their initial condition1. Some of the common symptoms are1,2:

These symptoms may affect everyday activities such as work, exercise and household chores.

How can TCM help to alleviate some of these lingering symptoms?

1. Fatigue 

With Long COVID, you may still feel tired or restless easily after activities which were previously not difficult to cope with, even with sufficient rest at night. This can affect your quality of life both physically and mentally. 

Here are some tips to boost energy.

Acupressure

Acupoint: 足三里 (Zu San Li, ST36)

Function: Regulates spleen and stomach energy Qi, and boosts immunity

Location: At the lower border of your knee cap, first locate 2 “dimples” at either side of the middle thick tendon. From the outer dimple, place 4 fingers (index to pinky finger) down onto the shin bone. The acupoint is where the edge of your pinky falls.

How to massage: Using your fingertip, press hard on the acupoint and hold for 30 seconds. Soreness is expected. Do it daily 1-2 times a day. 



Abdominal massage

Instructions: Warm the lower abdominal area with a heat pack or gently apply pressure to stimulate some points such as 气海穴 (Qi Hai, CV 6) and 关元穴 (Guan Yuan, CV 4). 

Function: boosts vital energy and warmth, serves as an important healthcare acupoint and promotes longevity.

Location: 

  • 关元穴 (Guan Yuan, CV 4) can be found about 4 fingers down from the navel. 
  • 气海穴 (Qi Hai, CV 6) can be found midpoint between the navel and 关元穴 (Guan Yuan, CV 4).

Additional tip: Massage your stomach in a clockwise motion. This covers the acupoints illustrated above and also improves one’s bowel movements. In TCM, it is believed that the large intestine and lungs have a connection, hence a smooth bowel movement may result in better Qi flow in the lungs as well.

Diet

Chestnuts – Predominantly containing complex carbohydrates, chestnuts are a good and stable source of energy as your body digests them slowly, reducing potential spikes in blood sugar.3 They are also rich in fibre, vitamin C, copper, vitamin B, manganese, and various antioxidants, which are linked to numerous health benefits.3

Recommended intake:
100g per serving (about 10 chestnuts), up to 3 times a week.4 

Chinese yam (山药) – tonifies deficiency, nourishes lung and spleen energy, aids digestive system which is the main source of your body’s nutrition.

Recommended intake:
100g a day. Can be boiled in soup or fried with vegetables.  

Moxibustion

Moxibustion is a TCM technique that involves burning of mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris), a small spongy herb, on particular acupoints on the body to facilitate healing. The heat therapy helps to warm the meridians, boost energy, improve blood circulation and strengthen the immune system. 

It is best done by a TCM professional for combating fatigue.

You can read more about the benefits of moxibustion at this link
https://pulsetcm.sg/moxibustion-therapy-the-uses-benefits/

2. Feeling breathless easily after simple exercises such as walking or climbing up the stairs

Tea: Restoring Pulse Tea (Sheng Mai Yin 生脉饮)

Function: helps to restore energy Qi, enhance function of various organs in the body, improve immunity of the body, nourish Yin and clear heat. 

Ingredients:

  • 党参 (Dang Shen, Codonopsis pilosula), 9g
  • 麦冬(Mai Dong, Radix Ophiopogonis), 9g
  • 五味子(Wu Wei Zi, Schisandra chinensis), 6g 

Instructions: 

  1. Place all 3 ingredients in a pot and fill with water, preferably 3-5cm above the ingredient surface.
  2. Cover with lid and bring to boil using high heat, then simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Tea is ready for consumption. Drink it warm. 

Restoring Pulse Tea can be consumed daily.



3. “Brain fog” - mental cloudiness, including impairment to attention, concentration, speed of information processing and memory

After getting COVID-19, many patients complain that their thinking is fuzzy, sluggish and not sharp as before. 

New research shows a link between reduction of brain tissue volume and cognitive performance in those with COVID-19.5


Here are some tips to clear “brain fog”. 

Acupressure

How to massage: Locate the acupoints shown below and apply gentle pressure using your fingertips. Massage for 3-5 minutes or until you feel better. 

Acupoint: 百会 (Bai Hui, GV 20)

Function: Helps to clear the mind, lift the spirits, and tonify yang.

Location: draw a line between the tip of the 2 ears over the head, and find the midpoint. 

Acupoint: 四神聪 (Si Shen Cong, EX-HN1)

Function: also known as the “Alert Spirit Quartet”, these 4 points have a strong stimulating effect on aspects of the spirit Shen(神). Helps to calm and clear the mind and improve memory.

Location: after locating 百会 (Bai Hui, GV 20), 四神聪 (Si Shen Cong, EX-HN1) can be found left, right, up and down of 百会, one thumb-width spacing apart.

Acupoint: 印堂 ( Yin Tang, GV 29)

Function: Dispels wind, calms spirit Shen(神) and relieves anxiety, agitation or insomnia.

Location: at the midpoint between the inner ends of the eyebrows. 

Diet

Grapes – Did you know that eating grapes is good for your brain? Grapes contain compounds such as resveratrol that may improve memory, attention and mood.6,7  Grapes are also rich in copper which is an essential mineral involved in energy production. In addition, they are rich in nutrients that can give our immune system a boost and improve sleep and heart health.6,7 Recommendation: Eat half a cup of grapes (about 16 grapes) each day.8 Do not over-consume as they are high in sugar.

4. Sleep problems

Acupressure

Acupoint 1: 安眠穴 (An Mian)

Function: traditional point to treat insomnia. Also helps to reduce anxiety, headaches and dizziness. 

Location: Place finger behind earlobe, then shift finger backwards just behind the bony protrusion. Can be found on either side of the neck.

How to massage: apply gentle pressure to the point using your fingertips, massage for 3-5 minutes.1

Acupoint 2: 神门 (Shen Men, HT 7)

Function: located on the heart meridian, this point helps to regulate heart Qi and blood, calms the mind to treat insomnia, stress and anxiety. 

Location: located at the wrists. With your palm facing up, bend your wrist to see the crease. This acupoint sits on the outer end of the crease (about one-fifth of the wrist from the pinky finger side). Feel for a hollow at the base of the pisiform bone (where the palm of the hand meets the outer edge of the wrist).

How to massage: apply firm pressure to the point using your fingertip, massage for 3-5 minutes while taking deep breaths at the same time.

Acupoint 3: 三阴交 (San Yin Jiao, SP 6)

Function: Strengthens spleen, removes dampness, promotes smooth flow of liver Qi, tonifies the kidneys and promotes deep sleep. 

Location: Place 4 fingers above the ankle bone protrusion, acupoint is located just behind the shin bone.

How to massage: Apply deep pressure just behind the bone for 3-5 minutes.

Note: pregnant women should avoid this point.

5. Joint or muscle pain

Acupuncture / cupping 

Acupuncture –The insertion of extremely fine needles into the skin at specific acupoints promotes blood and Qi circulation, and triggers the body to release natural painkillers.

Cupping – improves circulation of blood, Qi and lymph, flush out built-up toxins and waste, relieve muscle tension and ache and promotes the body’s natural healing process.

Both TCM treatments are to be done by a TCM physician for safety and efficacy. 

Apply ointment / pain-relief patch

Need quick pain relief at home?
You can apply some 舒筋膏 (Shu Jin Gao – pain relieving ointment) or paste some pain-relief patches to the area of pain. This will help to increase blood flow and unblock stagnated Qi, thereby relieving pain. 

6. Chest tightness or heart palpitations

Acupressure

Acupoint : 内关 (Nei Guan, PC 6)

Function: regulates heart Qi flow and opens the chest.

Location: Place 3 fingers (index, middle and ring finger) below the wrist crease line, acupoint can be found in between the tendons of the long palmar muscle and radial flexor muscle of the wrist.

How to massage: Apply firm pressure for 3-5 minutes and take deep breaths at the same time. You should feel a reduction in heart palpitations. 

If you experience persistent heart palpitations and chest tightness even with light activities and no alternative diagnosis by a Western doctor can be found, acupressure alone is not sufficient. Acupuncture done by a licensed TCM physician is required to ease these symptoms.

Acupuncture is a very effective treatment technique to relieve heart palpitations. It is usually administered at acupoints located at the pericardium and heart meridian

Tea: Rose bud tea (玫瑰花茶, Mei Gui Hua Cha)

Function: regulates blood and Qi circulation, eases mood, relieves depression, improves sleep, warms and nourishes heart, liver and blood vessels.

Ingredients (per serving):

  • 5 玫瑰花 (Rose buds-Break the rose bud petals
  • 30g of  浮小麦 (Fructus Tritici Levis, Fu Xiao Mai
  • 2-3 pieces of 红枣 (Red dates) 

Instructions: 

  1. Place the above ingredients in a cup.
  2. Pour boiling water into a cup and let it soak for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Tea is ready for consumption. Drink it warm. 

Note:  Pregnant women should not drink frequently.

7. Persistent Dry Cough

Food therapy

Apricot kernels (Chinese almonds): commonly used in TCM to improve respiratory health by relieving cough.

Do take note that there are 2 types – Sweet apricot kernels (甜杏仁 Tian Xing Ren, also known as 南杏 Nan Xing) and bitter apricot kernels (苦杏仁 Ku Xing Ren, also known as 北杏 Bei Xing). While they are both good for treating cough, they have slight differences in function. 

Bitter apricot kernel: has a stronger anti-asthmatic effect. It also has a laxative effect. Due to its mild toxicity, it cannot be eaten raw, only upon cooking or roasting can they be consumed. Do not use more than 10g a day. 

Sweet apricot kernel: has a stronger nourishing effect on the lungs, which is good for people with dry cough. It has no toxicity. However, its cough-relieving effect is not as strong as the bitter apricot kernels, hence they are usually used in combination with the bitter ones.

Recommendation: Try making Chinese snow pear almond soup. This soup is good for dry and heaty cough as it nourishes Yin and moistens lungs, clears heat and resolves phlegm. 

Soup: Chinese Snow Pear Almond Soup

  1. Prepare 2 snow pears (雪梨) cut into slices and seeds removed, 5-10g of Sweet apricot kernels (南杏), 5-10g of bitter apricot kernels (北杏), and 2-3 figs (无花果).
  2. Add all of the ingredients into a pot and add water. 
  3. Bring to boil over medium heat and cook for 1 hour.
  4. Soup is ready for consumption. 

 

Unsure of what type of cough/phlegm you have? Check out our article on “understanding cough and its remedies” to know more. 

8. Loss of smell / taste

Acupressure

Acupoint 1: 迎香 (Ying Xiang, LI 20)

Function: unblocks nasal congestion and improves sense of smell.

Location: on either side of the nose, in the naso-labial groove.

How to massage: apply gentle pressure to the points using your fingertips, massage for 1-3 minutes.

Acupoint 2: 廉泉 (Lian Quan, CV 23)

Function: benefits the tongue, descends Qi and alleviates issues with swallowing.

Location: on the midline of the neck, in the depression of the upper border of the hyoid bone.

For more severe cases of nose congestion and loss of taste: Acupuncture treatment or/and customised TCM herbal medication is recommended. 

9. Headache and/or Dizziness

Acupoint 1: 太阳 (Tai Yang, EX-HN5)

Location: at the temples. Take the midpoint between the end of the eyebrow and the outer corner of the eye, and move a middle-finger spacing backwards where you can feel a depression.

Acupoint 2: 风池(Feng Chi, GB 20)

Location: Interlock both hands and hug the base of the skull. Locate the depression at each side using both thumbs.

Acupoint 3: 头维 (Tou Wei, ST 8)

Location: at the forehead, at the 2 corners of the hairline. 

Acupoint 4: 合谷 (He Gu, LI 4) 

Location: place one thumb over the webbed portion between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Acupoint is at the tip of the thumb.

Note: pregnant women should avoid this point.

Function: Promotes Qi and blood circulation, unblocks stagnated Qi to relieve pain, treats dizziness as well.

How to massage: apply gentle pressure to the point using your fingertips, massage for 3-5 minutes.

We hope all these self-help tips will be helpful in relieving your discomfort. If you continue to have lingering symptoms and the above self-help tips are not effective, we recommend you to come down for a consultation with our physician.

As there is no “one size fits all” treatment plan, a consultation with a physician is recommended to more accurately diagnose your body condition and constitution for a more accurate diagnosis and suggest treatment options customised for you. 

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

References: 

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)-post-covid-19-condition
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html
  3. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a25557872/chestnut-benefits/#:~:text=Just%2010%20roasted%20chestnuts%20include,of%2025%20to%2030%20grams.
  4. https://www.world-today-news.com/how-many-chestnuts-can-you-eat-to-keep-your-figure-and-be-good-for-your-health/
  5. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/mild-covid-19-brain-shrink-grey-matter-research-2557671
  6. https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-of-grapes#:~:text=Grapes%20are%20a%20good%20source,can%20help%20fill%20the%20gap
  7. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-grapes
  8. https://fruitsandveggies.org/expert-advice/how-many-grapes-are-you-allowed-to-eat-every-day/

Our Post-COVID recovery treatment is here to help allay your worries and get you started on your recovery journey.

Each session includes consultation with a TCM physician, and tailored herbal medication for 7 days at $88.
No hidden costs or deadlines, your health and recovery is our first priority.

You can make an appointment with us




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Physician Yuka Kwah

Physician/Management Trainee

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