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

There is an unprecedented number of critically ill survivors of COVID-19, and many are dealing with chronic pain.
There is an unprecedented number of critically ill survivors of COVID-19, and many are dealing with 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 affected the lungs, we now know that it can have a significant and lasting impact on many of our bodily functions.

Unfortunately, many who have recovered from COVID-19 are now experiencing chronic pain. 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, over 2 million 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). This means that there is an unprecedented number of critically ill survivors, and therefore many people dealing with pain from being critically ill.

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

COVID-19 Infection itself seems to directly affect the nervous system. 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 wears on, there have been profound psychological impacts due to extended isolation. How the body and mind interpret pain is impacted by these psychological factors. As patients recover from COVID-19, many of them may be at higher risk of chronic pain simply due to the psychological impact of this isolation.

Through all of this, there is hope. COVID-19 may be a new disease, but chronic pain is not a new issue. Many doctors are well equipped to treat chronic pain safely and compassionately.

The key to dealing with pain is to work with a medical team of physicians, therapists, mental health workers, and others to help address your needs. Lastly, developing a strong social support network can help monitor and manage the patient’s pain. Recovery and treating pain will take time and patience. Having the right group of empathetic family and friends can help promote recovery. The focus is not just to treat the pain, but to improve quality of life.

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, DO, D. ABA,and, the pain management team at Phelps Hospital, Northwell Health at (914) 269-1780.

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