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Chronic Pain Following COVID-19 Infection Is More Common Than You May Think

Many patients who have been severely impacted by COVID-19 are now experiencing chronic pain.
Many patients who have been severely impacted by COVID-19 are now experiencing chronic pain. Photo Credit: Getty Images

We are continuing to learn more about the lasting effects of the COVID-19 virus. An infection that we first thought primarily impacted the lungs, we now know that it can have a significant impact on many of our bodily functions.

Many patients who have been severely impacted by COVID-19 are now experiencing chronic pain. Unfortunately, almost 10% of these individuals will suffer from musculoskeletal post-COVID pain symptoms during the first year after infection. Pain associated with COVID-19 infection can be grouped into three main categories: pain associated with being critically ill, pain associated with direct damage from the infection, and pain associated with the psychological impact of infection.

To date, millions of patients in the US have been admitted to a hospital for COVID-19 and it is estimated that 17% of patients admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 required stays in the intensive care unit (ICU). Given the significant number of infections, there is also an unprecedented number of critically ill survivors, and thus a large portion of people dealing with pain.

These survivors exhibit a complex condition called post-intensive care syndrome (PICS), that combines physical and psychological challenges. One of these challenges is that of chronic pain, which can affect as many as 77% of patients after ICU stays.

Confusion, headaches, dizziness, loss of smell, and loss of taste have all been reported as neurologic side effects of the COVID-19 infection. Many are also experiencing lingering nerve pain. In addition to nerve pain, the infection has also been associated with muscle, joint, abdominal, and chest pain.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wore on, many became significantly impacted psychologically due to extended isolation. Pain is a neurological issue, one that can be impacted by psychological factors. As patients recover from COVID-19, many of them are at a higher risk of chronic pain, due to the psychological impact of isolation.

Through all of this, there is good news. COVID-19 may be a new disease, but chronic pain is not a new issue. Doctors are well equipped to treat chronic pain in a way that is focused on safety protocols while also optimizing function.

The key to dealing with pain is to work with your doctor and ideally a medical team of physicians, therapists, mental health workers, and others to help address your needs. Developing a strong social support network can help you monitor and manage your pain. Recovery and treating pain will take time and patience. Having the right group of empathetic family and friends can help promote your recovery.

For many patients, battling and recovering from COVID-19 was scary and daunting. Treating chronic pain after recovery shouldn’t be. With the right medical team, social network, some patience, and a positive outlook, patients can safely treat their pain and bring back their quality of life.

If you or a loved one is struggling with chronic pain, associated with COVID-19 or not, contact Dr. Yili Huang, D.O., D.A.B.A. and the pain management team at Phelps Hospital, Northwell Health at (914) 269-1780.