COVID-19 can cause upper back pain as well as other body aches that lingers months after infection. Learn about what causes back pain with COVID-19
COVID-19 can cause upper back pain as well as other body aches that lingers months after infection.
A study conducted on 280 people with COVID-19 and published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice (Aug 2021) reported that musculoskeletal symptoms were more frequently reported than respiratory tract symptoms after the infection had resolved.
The most frequent symptom on hospital admission was back pain, and the most common musculoskeletal symptoms were fatigue, spine pain, and muscle ache (myalgia). Each of these symptoms was present in more than 60% of people with post-acute COVID-19. In addition, people were more likely to have post-COVID-19 musculoskeletal symptoms if they had the following during the infection:
- Presence of back pain
- Lower lymphocyte and higher d-dimer levels
- Presence of COVID-19 findings in chest CT scans
- Longer hospitalization
- Chronic diseases such as diabetes
What causes back pain with COVID-19?
Back pain and other types of joint and muscle pain in COVID-19 are due to the virus triggering inflammatory processes in the body. The immune system releases interleukins that are proteins that help your body fight the virus.
If you have back pain before COVID-19, it may be aggravated during infection due to two main reasons:
- Decreased mobility during the isolation period or hospital stay (physical inactivity can cause stiffness and weakness and increase pain)
- Treatments given for COVID-19 that can put stress on your musculoskeletal system and aggravate pain
Back pain is not always caused by COVID-19. If you have been working remotely at home, sitting for prolonged periods of time, poor posture, or lack of ergonomic equipment may be the cause of your back pain. Moreover, you may have another issue such as spondylosis due to a disc bulge in the spine or a sports injury.
What does back pain due to COVID-19 feel like?
Back pain due to COVID-19 is different from the stabbing or throbbing pain caused by normal back pain abnormalities. It is also different from the soreness you would feel after an intense workout.
COVID-19 back pain feels like cramps or spasms of the muscles, and may persist for several days or even months.
What can you do for back pain?
Regardless of the cause, there are several things you can do to alleviate back pain:
- Apply a heating pad for about 15-20 minutes 2-3 times a day to the affected area.
- Take over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Stay hydrated.
- If your back pain is caused by COVID-19, take your time before resuming normal activities.
- Contact your doctor if your back pain:
- Persists for more than 2-3 weeks
- Is accompanied by other symptoms such as weight loss or numbness in the limbs
Medically Reviewed on 2/24/2022
Bakilan F, Gökmen IG, Ortanca B, et al. Musculoskeletal symptoms and related factors in postacute COVID-19 patients. Int J Clin Pract. 2021 Nov;75(11):e14734.