The typical symptoms of COVID-19 range from those resembling the flu or a bad cold to ones that are much more severe. However, there are less frequent symptoms you probably wouldn’t expect that follow some people both during the illness and long after recovery. One of those is muscle and joint pain from COVID-19.
“People reporting muscle and joint pain during and after having COVID-19 typically report it in their back and shoulders,” said Kristine Cottone, a physical therapist at OSF HealthCare. “But exactly when that pain begins, how severe it is and how long it lasts really varies by the individual. Since it’s only been a couple years since the start of the pandemic, there haven’t been many studies done yet on this topic.”
Research also has yet to determine:
- The source of this pain
- The percentage of people with COVID-19 who experience it
- Whether particular demographics, such as age and gender, are impacted more than others
“While COVID itself could be the source, some cases could just be from spending a lot of time sitting and laying down while sick with COVID. Right now, we just don’t know,” Kristine said. “Our practice has seen a number of patients with these symptoms, but it hasn’t been a large number.”
When to see your doctor
If you’ve been experiencing muscle and joint pain following a bout with COVID-19 and it’s not getting better with time, it’s probably time to see your doctor.
“In cases like this, your primary care provider will usually refer you to a physical therapist,” Kristine said. “The first evaluation will take about an hour, and that’s when the therapist gets to know you, finds out what’s troubling you and develops a treatment plan.”
But in addition to physical therapy, patients may also be referred to behavioral and mental health services due to the psychological impact of their COVID-19 experience.
“People who have had difficult experiences with COVID, such as those who spent a long time with it in the hospital, may have various psychological symptoms as a result, such as depression, anxiety, stress and fear,” Kristine added. “These symptoms can amplify how they perceive pain in their physical bodies.”
Time to get moving!
“Exercise is always the best medicine, especially for muscle and joint conditions,” Kristine said. “A physical therapist will develop an exercise regimen that addresses the problems the patient is facing while also taking into consideration their current physical limitations.”
Those limitations are usually measured on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion, also known as the Borg Scale. It’s used for measuring the amount of exertion a person perceives they’re having to put forth when exercising. It’s a 0-10 scale, with 0 being the body at rest, 1 being an activity requiring the least amount of effort and 10 requiring maximum effort.
“Just like with pain, each person perceives their level of exertion differently, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Kristine said. “We normally recommend that patients start in the 1-3 range and then work into more moderate workouts in the 4-6 range. But it all depends on the person’s level of fitness. A physical therapist works to ensure that the patient safely progresses through the scale.”
Whether a person should utilize pain relievers as part of their treatment plan is a topic they should discuss with their primary care provider.
“There are a number of factors involved when you bring medications into the mix, so that’s why it’s best to do it safely by getting your doctor’s advice,” Kristine said.