Author: Zawn Villines
Lower back pain is a potential COVID-19 symptom. Some people with the condition also have other muscle pains, such as neck or shoulder pain. Fever, tiredness, and a cough are other common symptoms.
This information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, back pain rates rose. A 2021 study in Malta found that 30% of participants reported back pain prior to the pandemic. After the pandemic, 49% reported back pain, many of whom had not experienced it before having COVID-19.
In addition to COVID-19 itself, other aspects of the pandemic may have led more people to develop back pain. For example, people may have exercised less during a lockdown, resulting in a risk of back pain. In addition, those working from home may not have had a suitable workstation, causing them to adopt incorrect posture throughout the working day.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between lower back pain and COVID-19.
All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lower back pain is a potential symptom of COVID-19. Muscle aches and pains are common with many viral infections, especially when a person has a fever. The CDC lists muscle pain as a COVID-19 symptom.
In a 2021 study of hospitalized people with COVID-19, 69.3% reported pain, with 43.6% reporting back pain and 33.1% reporting lower back pain.
People may experience lower back pain as a direct consequence of the illness, such as from inflammation or fever-related muscle pain. They may also have back pain if they spend long periods in bed, which can trigger or exacerbate muscle tension.
Lower back pain is something that people with long COVID can experience. Long COVID is the name for the collection of symptoms that some people continue to have for weeks, months, or years after having COVID-19.
A 2022 study found that lower back pain was common among people whose symptoms persisted past the acute stage.
Similarly, in a 2021 study, researchers contacted people who had previously stayed in hospital due to COVID-19 at 3 and 6 months after they went home. At 3 months, 74.6% had at least one rheumatic or musculoskeletal symptom. At 6 months, the figure was 43.2%.
Long COVID is not well-understood. Researchers currently remain unsure why some people continue to have symptoms and others do not, or why different people develop different symptoms.
How can you tell if the pain is due to COVID-19?
Back pain can occur for many reasons. The only way to determine whether it is happening due to COVID-19 is to undergo testing. If a person has back pain along with other symptoms, COVID-19 may be the cause.
Other common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- fever or chills
- muscle aches
- a headache
- new loss of taste or smell
- a sore throat
- a blocked or runny nose
- nausea or vomiting
It is possible to have COVID-19 and not experience all of these symptoms. Some people have very mild symptoms. In some cases, muscle aches may be the only symptom, which is why it is important to get a test.
Anyone who suspects that they have COVID-19 should follow the guidance of their local health authority.
In the United States, the CDC recommends that people who feel unwell stay home and seek testing as soon as possible. People can get tests for free via the COVID.gov website or by contacting their doctor by phone. They should not visit a healthcare facility in person unless a doctor specifically advises doing so.
People who have COVID-19 can usually care for themselves at home. Anyone who tests positive should stay home for 5 days and keep some distance from others in the household to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
People with an increased risk of serious illness should ask a doctor about getting treatment, as antiviral drugs can reduce the risk. These medications are most effective when a person starts taking them early.
If a person suddenly develops more serious symptoms, it is important to dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department. Signs that a person with COVID-19 needs immediate care include:
- trouble breathing
- blue, gray, or white lips and nails
- pain or pressure in the chest
- new confusion
- inability to stay awake
Most people recover from COVID-19 in a few days to a few weeks. If the back pain is solely due to the illness, it should clear up when the other symptoms resolve.
If the back pain is due to a lack of movement during a lockdown or hospital stay, it may improve with physical therapy. A doctor can provide more information about this treatment.
People who get long COVID may develop more persistent back pain, which could last much longer. Some people with long COVID find that the symptoms gradually get better over time.
A number of self-management techniques may help ease lower back pain. They include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications: Ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen may help alleviate back pain. They can also relieve other COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever.
- Ice or heat: Applying ice or heat may help relieve symptoms. Some people find relief from alternating between the two.
- Rest: Resting tense, sore back muscles for a few days may help. A person should avoid heavy lifting and awkward positions.
- Massage: Some people find that massaging the affected area eases pain.
- Exercise: Gentle forms of exercise, such as stretching or yoga, might help loosen tense back muscles. People may also find that gradually increasing their activity level eases back pain that results from being sedentary.
People develop back pain for many reasons. Other factors that could explain the pain include:
- an injury, such as a sprain or fracture
- muscle weakness
- a chronic illness, such as arthritis
Various factors can also predict a higher risk for persistent back pain. These include:
- prior episodes of back pain
- stress or anxiety
- a higher body weight
If a person tests negative for COVID-19 and continues to experience back pain, they should contact a doctor for advice.
Lower back pain is a common condition. Although it may result from COVID-19, there are many other potential causes. If a person has lower back pain alongside other symptoms that suggest a viral infection, they should undergo testing.
People can care for lower back pain at home by resting, applying heat or ice, taking OTC pain medications, and stretching gently. If these treatments do not work or the pain gets worse, a doctor can help with determining the cause and treating it.