Man in nature holds face in both hands, head tilted back. Twilight, sunset.

Corona — athletes only have patience

If you expose your body to the training load again too soon, you risk lasting damage. This also applies to competitive athletes. Soccer players have a particularly difficult time.

Actual­ly, Jens Wage­ner only had a mode­ra­te cour­se. The 52-year-old did not have to go to the hos­pi­tal or to the ven­ti­la­tor when he con­trac­ted Covid-19 in mid-April. Ins­tead, ten days of bed rest. “I found it inten­se,” he admits. Vio­lent, but not life-threa­tening. Four­teen days after the end of the sym­ptoms, the ama­teur tri­ath­le­te trai­ned again for the first time.

“After that I just lay in bed for two or three days, the mus­cle pain was so bad.” So rest again. Then the next attempt to train, this time just cycling for half an hour. But the pain stay­ed. “I tried four or five attempts, it always went wrong.” In addi­ti­on, fati­gue was a con­stant com­pa­n­ion. To this day, sport is out of the ques­ti­on for Jens Wagener.

Wage­ner, 52, from Geln­hau­sen, is one of an esti­ma­ted two mil­li­on peo­p­le in Ger­ma­ny suf­fe­ring from Post-Covid-Syn­dro­me (PCS). That’s about five to ten per­cent of tho­se infec­ted. As a remin­der: The gene­ric term for sym­ptoms that still occur or recur four weeks after infec­tion is Long Covid. From three months after the infec­tion one speaks of Post Covid. In addi­ti­on to fati­gue and short­ness of breath, the most com­mon sym­ptoms are mus­cle pain, chest pain and “bra­in­fog”, i.e. a “fog­gy brain”.

Your own body image can be deceiving

Experts from sci­ence and sport dis­cus­sed ques­ti­ons about the sport­ing come­back after a coro­na infec­tion on Mon­day evening in Frankfurt’s Wald­sta­di­on. The event, which took place as part of a sci­en­ti­fic con­fe­rence of the Ger­man Health Cen­ters, was orga­ni­zed by Andre­as Zei­her, Pro­fes­sor of Inter­nal Medi­ci­ne and Car­dio­lo­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty Hos­pi­tal in Frank­furt. Around 50 inte­res­ted peo­p­le had gathe­red, inclu­ding many with their own PCS history.

The most pres­sing ques­ti­on right at the begin­ning: When can the run­ning shoes be laced up again and the racing bike taken out of the base­ment? “You should take a five-day break after a mild infec­tion, and two or three days lon­ger if the sym­ptoms are more obvious,” says sports car­dio­lo­gist Mar­tin Hal­ler from Munich. For unvac­ci­na­ted peo­p­le, the num­ber of recom­men­ded rest days dou­bles. “Ath­le­tes should not unde­re­sti­ma­te Covid-19, even if they had no symptoms.”

One’s own body fee­ling can be decep­ti­ve: “In my out­pa­ti­ent cli­nic I expe­ri­ence again and again that even pati­ents who feel well are dia­gno­sed with heart mus­cle inflamm­a­ti­on.” Anyo­ne expe­ri­en­cing chest pain or drow­si­ness should seek medi­cal atten­ti­on befo­re resum­ing exer­cise, as it could be heart dise­a­se. Accor­ding to Hal­ler, older peo­p­le do not have to be more careful than others: “The­re are no differences.”

Sick footballers find it difficult

If you expo­se your body to the trai­ning load again too ear­ly, you risk las­ting dama­ge. This also appli­es to com­pe­ti­ti­ve ath­le­tes: When soc­cer play­er Joshua Kim­mich wan­ted to start trai­ning again in Decem­ber 2021 after an infec­tion, a lung infil­tra­ti­on slo­wed him down.

The PCS is of cour­se also an issue at Ein­tracht Frank­furt: “So far we have not had any post-Covid cases,” repor­ted team doc­tor Win­fried Ban­zer. This is also due to the fact that pro­fes­sio­nal foot­bal­lers are “extre­me­ly well exami­ned”. Abnor­ma­li­ties are reco­gni­zed ear­ly by the clo­se medi­cal care, and asym­pto­ma­tic cour­ses are also iden­ti­fied. A pre­re­qui­si­te for top per­for­man­ces: Accor­ding to a stu­dy from 2021, in which Bun­des­li­ga and Serie A games were exami­ned, sick foot­bal­lers play signi­fi­cant­ly fewer pas­ses and run fewer kilo­me­ters than befo­re the ill­ness, even half a year after the infec­tion. The dif­fe­ren­ces were lar­ger than after usu­al injuries.

It is the­r­e­fo­re neither phy­si­cal­ly nor psy­cho­lo­gi­cal­ly advi­sa­ble to mea­su­re ones­elf at the pre­vious­ly accus­to­med level of per­for­mance soon after an ill­ness, says Win­fried Ban­zer. His sober advice: “Ath­le­tes have to be patient.”


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