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Understanding Post-COVID Pain: Insights from Recent Research

Published: 14/06/2024

The coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) pandemic has left a lasting impact on many individuals, even after recovering from the initial infection. More than 100 long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms affecting multiple systems have been described. The presence of any of these lasting symptoms is widely referred to as “long-COVID” or “post-COVID-19 condition”. Among the lingering issues is chronic pain, a condition affecting a significant number of people who were infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

What is post-COVID Pain?

Long-COVID is defined as a condition “occurring in people with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least 2 months after and cannot be explained by an alternative medical diagnosis.” Studies suggest that up to 50% of patients suffer with post-COVID symptoms.

Post-COVID pain refers to persistent pain experienced by individuals after recovering from the acute phase of COVID-19. This can include muscle pain (myalgia), joint pain, and generalised body pain. These symptoms can appear even months after the infection has subsided.

Pain, particularly headache and musculoskeletal pain, is a symptom experienced both during the acute phase of infection and after the infection has passed in 15-20% of people infected by SARS-CoV-2. Understanding the long-term evolution of post-COVID pain is important to improve patient care and outcomes.

The authors of a recent study assessed data from patients who were hospitalised due to SARS-CoV-2 infection from the onset of infection up to 18 months after hospital discharge to help shed light on this important topic.

Methods of the Study

The researchers utilised data from the LONG-COVID-EXP program – a multicentre cohort study of subjects who were hospitalised by acute SARS-CoV-2 infection during the first wave of the pandemic at five hospitals in Madrid, Spain. A randomly selected sample of 400 patients from each hospital were invited to participate in the current study.

Participants attended semi-structured telephone interviews at 6-10 months (T1), 11-15 months (T2), and 16-21 months (T3) after hospital discharge. At each assessment interval, participants were asked about the presence of pain, pain for at least 3 consecutive months, and whether pain persisted, and were asked to describe pain locations.

Key Findings from the Study

The study followed 1266 individuals who were hospitalised during the first wave of the pandemic. Pain was present in 30% of individuals at hospital admission.

High Prevalence of Post-COVID Pain

The prevalence of post-COVID pain was significant.
41% of participants reported pain 8 months after hospitalisation.
34% reported pain 13 months after.
28% reported pain 18 months after.

Fluctuating Nature of Pain

The researchers demonstrated that post-COVID pain is not constant. Some individuals experienced new pain, while others had pain that fluctuated or appeared months after the initial infection. Two-thirds of individuals who reported pain 8 months after hospitalisation did not report this symptom on initial hospital admission. In addition, one in five individuals with pain at 13 months did not report these symptoms at 8 months.

Common Pain Locations

Pain in the lower extremities (legs) and widespread pain were the most common complaints among participants.

Risk Factors Associated with Post-COVID Pain

Several factors were associated with a higher risk of developing long-term post-COVID pain:

  • Female sex
  • Pre-existing pain conditions
  • Headache as an initial COVID-19 symptom
  • Longer hospital stays

What Does This Mean for You?

If you or a loved one is experiencing chronic pain after recovering from COVID-19, you are not alone. Understanding that this pain can fluctuate and might be influenced by factors like pre-existing conditions and initial symptoms can help in managing it better. It is important to seek help with your symptoms by seeing an appropriately trained healthcare professional such as a GP, pain specialist or a doctor with expertise in post-COVID syndrome.


Chronic pain after COVID-19 is a real and significant issue for many survivors. Up to 28% of hospitalised COVID-19 survivors report post-COVID pain after an average of 18 months

Understanding the nature of this pain and its risk factors can help in managing it effectively. If you are struggling with post-COVID pain, reach out to healthcare professionals for support and explore various pain management strategies as appropriate.

For more detailed information on this study, consider reading the full research article or discussing it with your doctor.

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