Rehabilitation specialists treat back pain as one of the most common conditions. Rehabilitation specialists have noticed an increase in back pain patients since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We see a variety of back pain,” Talya Fleming M.D. is Medical Director of the Stroke Recovery Program and Aftercare Program at Hackensack Meridian JFK John Rehabilitation Institute. “We see patients with back pain from old habits, back pain due to sitting more, back pain related changes in lifestyles and back pain related COVID-19.”
Back Pain and COVID-19
While doctors are still studying the effects of COVID-19 on back pain, it is not usually a sign of COVID-19. It is possible to have a COVID-19-related infection if you experience general pains such as back pain, headaches, fever, chills or shortness of breathe.
“People who have COVID-19 may experience muscle pain and body aches due to the body’s inflammatory response, which can be felt in the upper and lower back,” says Sagar Parikh, M.D., an interventional pain medicine specialist and Director of the Center for Sports and Spine Medicine at JFK Johnson. Some people may experience pain, soreness and aches after receiving the COVID vaccine. This is normal and indicates that their immune system has been working properly.
Dr. Fleming comments that back pain caused by COVID-19 can feel different to overexertion. Overexertion pain usually lasts for a few days, while COVID-19 pain may last for days or even weeks.
COVID-19 patients may spend more time in bed recovering from surgery, which can lead to back pain. This could be due to altered spine biomechanics and deconditioned muscles.
Pandemic-Related Back Pain
The pandemic hasn’t affected the conditions that cause back pain, such as disc herniations and spinal arthritis. What has changed is people’s daily lives and habits.
Dr. Parikh shares that one thing we’ve noticed is an increase in disc herniations. “As a large percentage of the population works from home, we have found that many of our patients suffer from muscular strain or disc herniations as a result of sitting for long periods on a poorly supported chair, couch or bed. This is something that has not happened since the pandemic.
Dr. Parikh stated that even patients with a home office are often not operating in the best ergonomic conditions. This can cause strain to the lower back, neck, and shoulders.
Also, working from home can lead to a change in routines which may result in lower levels of activity. These people may not be walking with their coworkers or stopping at the gym to work on their way home. This can lead to tighter muscles and back pain.
Pandemic-Related Back Problems: Preventing and treating
COVID-19 can cause back pain. Patients may be able to get some relief using warm compresses or over-the-counter pain medication. Dr. Fleming, and Dr. Parikh suggested that there are some things people can do to help prevent or treat back pain related to pandemics.
Dr. Fleming explained that she uses the acronym B-A-C–K to remind her patients what they need to do in order to prevent or treat back pain.
- B – Busta-Move.
Move every day.
- A – Alarm.
Make a schedule and set an alarm. Dr. Parikh recommends that you do some activity every half an hour, such as walking or stretching, even while you work.
- C – Calm.
Research has shown that anxiety and lack sleep, which some people experience during COVID-19, can lead to tight muscles and other symptoms. Meditation and other calming activities can help reduce stress.
- K – Keep.
You can keep the environment ergonomically-friendly by using a support chair with alumbar pillows. This will prevent you from hunching or elevating your computer screen.
Dr. Fleming, and Dr. Parikh stress that any health care provider must evaluate back pain whether it is persistent or severe.
Dr. Parikh says that most mild-to-moderate back discomfort caused by muscle strain will resolve within 1-2 weeks. If you are experiencing persistent pain, or if there is a known injury that causes severe pain, or sudden, severe pain, or pain or numbness in your legs, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.
Dr. Fleming said that Dr. Parikh also mentioned “red flag” symptoms such as weakness, tingling and loss of bladder or bowel control.
Dr. Parikh explains that many patients may be hesitant to visit a hospital because of COVID-19. This could lead to delayed care for back pain. “Health care facilities were among the first to adopt COVID-19 precautions such as masking, physical separation, and enhanced cleaning. To prevent chronic pain from developing, it is best to treat the pain as soon as possible.
Dr. Fleming says that people don’t need to choose between safety or receiving treatment for back pain. They can have both.
Next steps & resources:
- Learn more about back pain treatment options or find a spine doctor at Hackensack Meridian Health.
- Learn more about our physical therapy services offered at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.
- 6 Ways to Alleviate Lower Back Pain During Lockdown
HealthU’s information is meant to be used in general and not as a substitute for your doctor’s advice. For individual care, consult your doctor.