COVID-19 Psychological Factors Associated with Pain Status, Pain Intensity, and Pain-related Interference

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world practically overnight, having infected close to 100 million people, 2 million of which have died. Significant efforts have been made to develop a vaccine to slow the spread of the disease, but this approach neglects a number of important facets, including those that may be at higher risk for COVID-19 physical and mental health related consequences, including those with pain. Given the widespread infection control measures that have been implemented to slow the spread of the virus, people with pain have largely suffered from un- and under-treated pain. Additionally, given the widespread impact of the pandemic, COVID-19 specific stress, anxiety, and depression has increased. This is particularly relevant to those with pain, as past work strongly suggests that increased mental health complaints is associated with greater overall and more difficult to manage pain. Considering this, not only have those with pain suffered due to social distancing, shelter-in-place orders (contributing to sedentary behavior), and cancellation of medical appointments to manage pain, but also the added burden of mental health complaints likely increases the severity and disability associated with pain.

Therefore, we conducted a study that looked at differences in mental health factors between those reporting pain and those reporting no pain during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we also looked at which psychological variables increased pain intensity and disability among those with pain. We specifically looked at COVID-19-related fear, COVID-19-related worry, general anxiety, depression, and sleep problems, and found that those with pain, compared to those without pain, reported more severe symptoms. Importantly, for those with pain, COVID-19 fear, sleep problems, and depression were associated with more severe outcomes. This study provides initial evidence for how those with pain may be experiencing the pandemic. It also highlights the importance of devoting future research to this high risk segment of the population. It is likely that those with pain may have long-lasting consequences from the pandemic, rendering pain management more difficult. We know that un- and under-treated pain is associated with a host of other negative outcomes, including substances use and disability, so prioritizing this high-risk group is critically important in terms of clinical outcomes.

Read the full paper: Rogers, A. H., Garey, L., & Zvolensky, M. J. (in press). COVID-19 Psychological Factors Associated with Pain Status, Pain Intensity, and Pain-related Interference. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. doi:10.1080/16506073.2021.1874504

Photo By: Britt-knee

Pictured: Andrew Rogers

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