The Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on Chronic Pain Management

How chronic pain management has changed and what you can do about it.

By 
Shannon Dougherty
Reviewed by 
Dr. Abigail Hirsch, Ph.D.
December 9, 2021
4
 min. read

It’s safe to say that all of our lives have changed significantly since Covid-19 arrived on the scene. Across all countries and nationalities, ages and genders, the pandemic has altered the way we live, work, teach our children, and socialize. Its impact has been far-reaching, affecting how we think about and manage the chronic pain we may have had before all this started. 

So what does chronic pain management in Covid-19 era look like anyway? Has our pain as a whole improved or become worse during this time? Have we changed how we talk to our doctor about it or our methods to control it? Fortunately, a recent survey conducted by Harris Insights & Analytics found some answers for us about  chronic pain and Covid. 

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How Prevalent is Chronic Pain?

Let’s start with the basics. Of the 2,000+ American adults surveyed by Harris, over half (56%) said they currently live with chronic pain. While naturally, the type of pain varied by person, the majority cited back and knee pain as their main trouble spots. Other areas of pain included the shoulders, neck, wrists and hands, ankles and feet, hips, and elbows.

73% of people within this group indicated that they experience pain daily. In other words, out of every four survey participants who said they have chronic pain, three of them struggle with pain every single day.

So how are they coping? According to the survey, most people (70%) use pharmacological methods like over-the-counter pain medications, followed to a lesser degree by cannabis/cannabidiol, non-opioid Rx pain relievers, and opioids. Another 78% rely on non-pharmacological therapies like exercise, heat/ice, healthy eating, physical therapy, massage, and so on. According to the questionnaire, the top two ways people manage their chronic pain are OTC pain medications and exercise.

How Has Pain Management Changed During Covid?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey found that many people manage chronic pain differently nowadays than they did in the past. So what exactly has changed in chronic pain management in the time of Covid-19? 

  • Approximately one in five people have been communicating more frequently with their doctor about their chronic pain since the start of the pandemic.
  • A similar amount of folks tried a new pain management method during this time.
  • Approximately 23% of people with chronic pain either encountered difficulty paying for their treatments during the pandemic or could not access them.
  • Another 11% have boosted their dosage or the frequency they take pain medication since the beginning of Covid-19.

But people are not just reporting more problems with pain; almost two-thirds of the responders have started using non-pharmacological therapies more frequently. And more than half of the people surveyed also began using pharmacological treatments more often. All that to say,  people coping with chronic pain have increased the frequency of their treatments quite a bit during COVID. 

Why? Perhaps their pain is more apparent without daily distractions. Or maybe the increased stress and anxiety of the entire situation made their pain worse. 

When asked on the questionnaire, around 26% of the surveyed participants confirmed that more stress and anxiety worsened their pain. At the same time, the same amount of folks said that lack of sleep due to pain also played a role. Other reasons for worsening pain included being unable to participate in enjoyable activities, including therapeutic ones, because of pandemic restrictions and increased difficulty in accessing medical care and filling prescriptions.

But there is one positive note. Many people had more time to exercise, eat healthily, and participate in mindfulness techniques like meditation during the pandemic. Combining these methods with using pain relievers more often, around one in four respondents said their chronic pain lessened during the pandemic.

What Can Help People Living With Chronic Pain? 

Both people who live with recurrent pain and Covid-19 patients with chronic pain expressed a need for more help in the survey. A whopping 83% said that if they were able to better manage their chronic pain, their quality of life would drastically improve. For two-thirds of respondents, better managing their pain would lower the stress in their lives because they currently experience anxiety about their situation

So what might help? For one, being taken seriously by doctors. Approximately our out of five survey participants said that this would help them. They don’t always feel heard or understood by healthcare providers. Moreover, the majority of folks indicated that they don’t even know what kind of physician might help them manage their pain and wish they had more knowledge about how to control their pain. These results suggest an undercurrent of discouragement and hopelessness among many people experiencing daily chronic pain.

But there is more good news. Around 80% of the survey respondents said they have figured out ways to manage their pain independently. A similar proportion also expressed disinterest in highly addictive opioids and an interest in alternative pain management methods like nutritious eating, exercise, massage, and physical therapy.

The bottom line? Many of us living with chronic pain don’t feel heard by our doctors and are disheartened after managing our symptoms for so long by ourselves. And the pandemic only exacerbates these problems. 

While we may have achieved some success on our own, most of us haven’t fully conquered or overcome our pain. Fortunately, there are now alternatives out there. One of which is Lin. With our customized care plans, you can get paired with a compassionate and empathetic health coach. S/he will genuinely listen and collaborate with you and our pain specialists to create a tailored program that works for you. Contact Lin today to find out more!

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