Impact of Social Distancing on Chronic Pain Patients During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic

Kelsey Mikayla Flowers, MA
Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine
Poster Overview

The (Coronavirus Disease 2019) COVID-19 pandemic has had major consequences for people with chronic pain, specifically with regards to the impact of new social distancing mandates on feelings of isolation and loneliness among these individuals, potentially making their pain worse. This online survey was conducted roughly 4-8 weeks after social distancing policies were implemented in Massachusetts. The study asked 150 individuals living with chronic pain about how social distancing has affected their pain severity, and how much their pain affected their ability to function normally, their relations with others, their enjoyment of life, and their mood. The study also identified characteristics of those whose pain was most impacted, showing that several demographic, socioeconomic, psychological and social factors were linked to greater ratings of pain severity and interference during social distancing. Notably, female gender, non- white race, lower education, disability status, having fibromyalgia, and greater tendency to have catastrophic thoughts about pain were associated with greater pain. These findings suggest that patients with these characteristics may be at higher risk during current and subsequent waves of social isolation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scientific Abstract

The Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had significant consequences for people with chronic pain. Specifically, the social distancing policies necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 have subjected individuals to increased levels of isolation and loneliness, worsening pain’s impact. This cross-sectional survey of a variety of individuals with chronic pain (N=150) was conducted approximately 4-8 weeks after social distancing mandates commenced in Massachusetts. The objectives of the study were to examine the impact of social isolation on pain severity and interference, to identify characteristics of individuals whose pain was most impacted, and to assess changes in access to and patterns of pain care among chronic pain patients. Several demographic, socioeconomic, and psychosocial variables were associated with greater pain severity and interference during social distancing. Multivariable linear regression analysis demonstrated that gender, race, education, disability status, fibromyalgia diagnosis, and pain catastrophizing were independently associated with greater pain severity, while gender and pain catastrophizing were independently associated greater pain interference since the onset of social distancing. These findings suggest that patients with a certain sociodemographic profile and with high pain catastrophizing may be at higher risk for pain worsening during current and subsequent waves of social isolation necessitated by the COVID- 19 pandemic.

Clinical Implications
Social factors, such as isolation, may have a modulating effect on pain. The variable impact of social isolation on individual chronic pain patients should be considered in the planning, development, and prioritization of interventions to prevent pandemic-related worsening of pain.
Research Areas
Authors
K. Mikayla Flowers, MA; Valerie Hruschak, PhD; Desiree R. Azizoddin, PsyD; Robert N. Jamison, PhD; Robert R. Edwards, PhD; Kristin Schreiber, PhD
Principal Investigator
Kristin Schreiber, PhD

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