A Spanish study suggests that factors such as job insecurity, more people living in the same dwelling, loss of someone to COVID-19, and worries about the future and fear of contagion have had a negative impact on people living with pain.
The pandemic has significantly impacted people who live with chronic pain. Performed by eHealth Lab, a research group affiliated with the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, the study results demonstrated that 70 per cent of the people with chronic pain have seen their condition worsen in terms of severity, frequency of episodes and interference in their daily activities.
A total of 502 patients took part in the study; 88 per cent were women aged between 30 and 59, with long-duration chronic pain (mean duration, seven years). Most participants (87.6 per cent) had pain in more than one point; the most frequent locations were the abdomen, lower back and neck. The participants answered online surveys, designed in accordance with the IMMPACT (Initiative on Methods, Measurement, and Pain Assessment in Clinical Trials) methodology, and the CPGQ (Chronic Pain Grade Questionnaire) was used to compare changes in the pain perceived by the patients since lockdown began.
The pandemic worsens pain
The study showed that the pandemic has also favoured the emergence of new pain triggers. While stress and weather changes were the most frequently mentioned triggers before the pandemic, during lockdown a large number of participants have mentioned worrying about the future, sleep problems, insecurity, negative thoughts, sadness, loneliness, insufficient physical activity and fear of contagion.
New ways of coping
Since the state of emergency began, more than half of the patients have used rest to manage their pain, and a similar percentage have increased the consumption of medication. “Both could have counterproductive effects,” explained UOC psychologist and researcher, Rubén Nieto. However, people have now also started turning to a new positive way to combat pain. Indeed, 48.2 per cent have included stretching exercises as a new tool for dispelling pain.
ICTs, a future opportunity
It is difficult to eliminate the pain altogether, but it is possible to learn to cope with it and live with it. Biopsychosocial interventions may be useful, in which holistic approaches to pain management are used,” explains Nieto, who specializes in understanding, assessing and treating pain problems from a multidimensional viewpoint. However, most people do not have access to these interventions, as few centres offer this type of treatment, and health professionals receive little specific training in pain management, according to Nieto.
The good news is that information and communication technologies (ICT) are emerging as a useful tool for taking this type of treatment to chronic pain patients: “ICTs provide an opportunity for combating pain and improving well-being, since they can facilitate access to evidence-based interventions at an affordable cost. And they can increase personal autonomy and empowerment,” reports Nieto, who focuses part of his research on applying new technologies to health problems. “We need to learn from our experience gained from the pandemic using ICT’s in health. The possibilities are limitless, from the classic teleconsultation to solutions based on artificial intelligence.
Second part of the study
Researchers have planned a second part of the study in which more in-depth interviews will be used to gain first-hand knowledge of their situation. The team is looking for people who would like to take part. If you are interested, you can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.