Is Back Pain a Symptom of COVID-19?

Body aches and pains are common symptoms of COVID-19 and can persist long after other symptoms subside.

If you have COVID-19, you may experience the hallmark symptoms: fatigue, a dry cough, fever, headache, or a loss of taste or smell. You may also experience back pain.

In July 2021, researchers published their findings in the journal Current Rheumatology Reports, which stated that muscle pain is not an uncommon symptom of COVID-19. At that time, the researchers reported that nearly half of all COVID-19 cases experienced muscle pain, including back pain, as one of their symptoms.

So, why and how does the virus SARS-Cov-2 elicit back pain among some people? Here's what you need to know about that particular symptom of COVID-19 and how it may affect you months after your other symptoms subside.

Woman lying on a bed waking up suffering back ache.
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COVID-19 Back Pain

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists muscle and body aches as one of the COVID-19 symptoms, although not back pain specifically. However, some healthcare providers noticed back pain in patients who tested positive for coronavirus.

"We have been finding that COVID-19 can have a variety of presentations, and back pain can be a symptom," Vidya K. Mony, MD, associate hospital epidemiologist and pediatric infectious disease specialist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., told Health.

Research also found that back pain affects several people who contract the virus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. Following a review of more than 1,000 patients seen at a COVID-19 outpatient clinic in Boston during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, Harvard Medical School researchers compiled a new list of symptoms to be aware of.

Published in June 2020 in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings journal, the researchers reported that back pain made the list. Their findings also included cough without fever, sore throat, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, body aches, and fatigue.

Why It Happens

It turns out back pain is not an uncommon experience when your body fights off any viral infection.

According to a study published in Clinical Rheumatology in May 2020, you may experience muscle aches and pains with COVID-19 due to your body's natural inflammatory response when a virus invades it.

Per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), myositis occurs when your muscles become inflamed in response to an unwanted invader—like the virus SARS-CoV-2.

Normally, viruses infect your cells, inserting the genetic material that allows them to reproduce inside your body. Sometimes, a virus can affect your muscle cells, which causes them to become inflamed and painful.

Long COVID Muscle Aches and Pains

Besides being a possible early symptom of COVID-19, joint or muscle pain occurring anywhere in the body may also be a long-term effect of the disease, said the CDC.

In November 2020, a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that muscle aches were the second most common symptom of "long COVID-19."

Per the CDC, long COVID-19 mostly occurs among people who previously experienced severe symptoms of the disease. Although, long-term side effects of COVID-19 can also persist among people who have mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all.

In addition to muscle aches, some common symptoms of long COVID-19 include tiredness, difficulty breathing, brain fog, and change in taste or smell, among others.

The BMJ study found that, in a group of 201 young, low-risk patients in the UK with ongoing symptoms of the disease, 88% of them reported experiencing muscle aches four months after their initial symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

Should You Get Tested for COVID-19?

While back pain may not be one of the typical signs of COVID-19, Dr. Mony recommended considering the virus SARS-CoV-2 as a possibility if you experience unexpected body aches, like back pain.

And COVID-19 aside, always seek medical attention for persistent back pain because it could be a sign of another health issue—such as arthritis of the spine, a herniated (or bulging) disc, or a kidney condition.

Changes in the spine that happen as a natural result of aging also cause back pain, per the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. According to the CDC, acute lower back pain that lasts for four weeks or less is extremely common, causing more disability worldwide than any other condition.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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