Pain from the Pandemic: Why Do I have Body Aches and Pains from Staying at Home?

woman sitting at desk arched back in pain

Do You have “Pandemicalgia,” or pain from the pandemic? You may already have symptoms.

Since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, I have seen an increased number of people reporting unexplained muscle soreness and pains that are not due to injuries or overuse. I asked my physical therapy colleagues about this problem and they agreed that they were seeing the same thing. Recently, a patient was describing his symptoms when it suddenly dawned on me—he and many of our other patients are suffering from pandemicaglia. Or, pain from the pandemic.

What is “Pandemicalgia”?

It is a term that I created to describe changes in the body and increased pain resulting from the pandemic. The word pandemicalgia /panˈdemikaljə /, is a combination of the word pandemic and algia, which means pain, meaning pandemic-related pain. 

While pandemicalgia may never listed as an official disorder, it is important to understand that pandemicalgia is real pain, it is not imaginary and can affect your ability to do normal activities.

Why do I have body aches and pains from staying at home?

There are several factors that contribute to pandemicalgia.

Decreased exercise and activity

The pandemic has restricted many of the normal activities that keep us moving. We are finding ourselves sitting on the couch more often and moving around less. These changes in work, recreational activities and limited options for exercise can result in tightening of the joints and muscles, loss of strength and worsening of balance.

Lack of movement results in decreased joint lubrication, increased inflammation, and greater pain sensitivity in the nervous system, meaning more of those body aches and pains for you.

Additionally, pain from pre-existing conditions like arthritis can be relieved with regular exercise; so, when you decrease movement, your pain is likely to increase.

Poor ergonomics

Many individuals are spending more hours working from home. Computer monitors, desks and chairs at home are often not ideally positioned like ergonomically designed office workstations. Improper monitor and keyboard heights can quickly turn a day of work into a painful experience.

Even spending extra time watching movies or catching up on a favorite video series can result in increased pain in the hips and back. This is especially prevalent when sitting on soft surfaces in positions that put more strain on those areas. Even using your phone or tablet for extended periods of time can cause neck and shoulders aches.

Emotional or psychological stress

Prolonged stress and social isolation have numerous negative effects on our health including what you may think is unexplainable muscle soreness and pain. Your stress could result in pain from increased muscle tension in the head, neck and jaw. Under stress, the brain can also interpret normal signals from the body as painful, even when there is no injury. For some, the increased stress, changes of the season or pressures of the holidays can trigger depression, which has been shown to be a significant factor in triggering pain.

Changes in sleep pattern

Due to changes in work and home-life balance, exercise and stress can cause sleep disruption. This lack of healthy sleep can contribute to slower recovery from injuries, illness and stress contributing to pain.

Changes in diet

Changes in diet along with reduced exercise contribute to weight gain, which increases inflammation. It may be easy to grab extra snacks and beverages when spending more time at home, but most of those treats contain sugars and unhealthy fats, which can promote pain-producing inflammation.

Preventing pain from the pandemic

At this point you may wonder if there is a way to avoid this type of pain?  Pandemicalgia can be prevented by increasing movement with daily activities and doing regular exercise.

Here are a few suggestions.

Begin by planning to move

Take movement breaks at regular intervals when working at the computer, watching television or other sedentary activities. A regular stretching routine will improve joint mobility and muscle flexibility. Trying some of the exercises in Dr. Zach Vandenberg’s stretching video is a great way to get started.

Don’t forget strengthening

Even though getting to the gym or favorite exercise class may be a challenge during the pandemic, you can still improve strength with body weight exercise such as squats and pushups or use elastic bands and dumbbells. If you can’t do a standard body weight exercise, try a modified version like a pushup with hands on the countertop instead of the floor.  Simple household items like laundry detergent, bags of pet food or water softener salt, can also serve as a weight to provide some resistance. Start out slowly because significant changes in activity levels can also produce muscle soreness.

Improve your posture

Reduce stress on your back and hips when watching television by avoiding side sitting positions and keeping your lower back supported, especially when sitting on soft, comfortable furniture.

Reduce stress on your neck and shoulders when working at the computer by placing your keyboard and mouse in position where you are not reaching up or forward and positioning your monitor, so the top of the screen is approximately at eye height.

Seek treatment for underlying problems

Consult with a physical therapist about the root of the problem to promote healing, restore movement and get back to normal activities before those issues worsen. Our team of physical therapists are experts in diagnosing muscle, joint and spine problems while identifying the underlying cause to reduce pain and help you get your life back to normal.

Pain from the pandemic can be avoided by intentionally increasing movement and working to build strength.

Author: Robert Runge, DPT, Owner and Clinic Director