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Is muscle pain or back pain a symptom of the Omicron COVID variant?

At the start of the pandemic, loss of taste and smell and difficulty breathing were two telltale signs that you could be infected with COVID. But as the coronavirus evolved and variants appeared, different symptoms became more common. Now back pain and muscle pain are among the list of symptoms commonly reported with omicron.

Data from the South African omicron wave first confirmed that myalgia, and back pain in particular, was on the increase in COVID patients. Similar reports have come out of India and Norway – more and more people infected with COVID are suffering from back pain and muscle pain. And sometimes this pain is quite intense.

The most likely culprit, according to pain and spine specialists, is any inflammation that accompanies a viral infection, which can agitate our muscles and joints. While it is too early to be sure, some doctors suspect that there may be something unique about omicron and the way it affects the musculoskeletal system.

“COVID is what we call a bad player. It can really mimic so many different conditions and cause so many types of symptoms, whether it’s affecting the pulmonary system, the musculoskeletal system, or your heart, ” Peter Whang, a Yale Medicine orthopedic spine surgeon and associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, told HuffPost.

Why can COVID cause back pain?

During viral infections, the body releases a ton of small proteins called cytokines to stimulate the immune system to fight off the pathogen. According to Jacob Hascalovic, neurologist, interventional pain specialist and chief physician and co-founder of the telehealth platform on chronic pain Clearing, one of the consequences of these pro-inflammatory cytokines is that they can greatly irritate muscles and joints.

It’s not just the coronavirus that triggers this type of reaction. Back pain and muscle pain are also commonly reported with other viral and bacterial infections, such as influenza, adenoviruses, and rhinoviruses. Whang said that this important immune response, which is part of the body’s natural response to viruses, can cause many musculoskeletal disorders.

With COVID, much of the reported aches and pains are in the muscles and soft tissues around the joints – it doesn’t cause structural problems or cause discs to wear out more quickly, according to Whang.

People with pre-existing back problems also experience flare-ups when infected with COVID. According to Patrick doherty, neurosurgeon and spine surgeon at Yale Medicine, the inflammatory reaction may be more problematic and aggravating in people with underlying health conditions like chronic back pain, which is why the infection appears to exacerbate symptoms pre-existing in areas of weakness.

Hascalovic said the inflammation caused by COVID can also reveal underlying issues. For example, a person might have arthritis that is not symptomatic.

“The infection, by creating inflammation in and around this area of ​​arthritis that normally didn’t cause any symptoms, is now a new presentation,” Hascalovic said.

Dmitry Ageev / EyeEm via Getty Images

Resting and over-the-counter pain relievers can help relieve muscle-related symptoms of COVID.

Does omicron cause more back pain than other variants?

It’s still in the air. During the early stages of the pandemic, patients frequently reported lung problems and loss of taste and smell. These symptoms are not as common with omicron. Doherty said he has treated more patients with back pain during the omicron wave.

“With omicron, we’re definitely seeing more back pain complaints, even after they’ve recovered, and we’re not sure exactly why. But inflammation and the immune response are probably the cause,” Doherty said. .

It is not known if there is something different about omicron that specifically causes back pain or if we are hearing more about this symptom, as many more people are infected now, Hascalovic added. Some doctors suspect omicron can only attacks the musculoskeletal system, however, we need more research to determine if this is what is happening.

How to treat back pain?

Doherty recommended treating back pain and muscle pain associated with COVID the same way you would treat other types of back pain – try gentle stretches, use heat or ice, and if you can tolerate them, over-the-counter oral anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAIDs or acetaminophen. Hascalovic also suggested topical anti-inflammatory and botanical therapies because the side effects are low.

Avoid strenuous activities and physical therapy during the infection and allow yourself to rest, Whang added. “If you have an active infection, you don’t want to be too aggressive in treating back pain.”

The good news is that most of the time, back pain and muscle aches are self-limiting – they go away when the infection clears (which usually happens within two weeks).

“As they recover, with a little delay, the back pain also recovers,” Doherty said.

Omicron is so new that researchers do not yet know whether back pain will be a common long-term symptom in patients infected with the variant. We have seen this with other variations, so the same could very well be true with omicron. But, regardless, if your back pain persists after your recovery from COVID, it is time to see a doctor as there may be an underlying condition causing the pain.

“You don’t want to miss something and just dismiss it as ‘this is my omicron’,” Doherty said. “Sometimes it’s something else.

Experts are still learning more about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but directions may change as scientists find out more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most recent recommendations.

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