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Researchers study how the lockdown is affecting chronic, recurring pain

  Foto: Toa Heftiba /

Foto: Toa Heftiba /

Stress, feelings of uncertainty and being sedentary are all factors that can increase discomfort

A survey launched by the researchers aims to reveal how the lockdown is affecting those with chronic pain

The lockdown has not been easy for anyone, but what about more specific groups such as people suffering from some type of chronic pain? This unanswered question has spurred a group of researchers from the UOC to investigate the specific effects of confinement on people with this issue. One of the researchers involved, Rubn Nieto, from the UOC's eHealth Lab and member of the University's Faculty of Health Sciences, said: "We want to compile data on how being confined at home is affecting pain, since as far as we know no study in our field has analysed this topic yet." The experts feel that the different factors that can arise during a lockdown, such as stress, fear or a sedentary lifestyle, could have an impact on cases of chronic pain.


E-working and increased back pain

Although the researchers want to analyse the perceptions of people with any type of physical pain, the most common is back pain in the cervical or lumbar region, which is estimated to affect 25% of Europeans. In fact, this type of back pain is so common, at least 40% of us will experience it at some point in our lives.

This percentage is only likely to increase with e-working, where most of us do not have access to the optimal working conditions of the office, such as ergonomic tables and chairs. However, as Nieto said, "it's not just about ergonomics, but the working environment as well. There are households with kids who are not in school now and parents have to balance work, family and social life. This alone would be enough, but coupled with an increased work load, stress and discomfort levels could skyrocket in people with chronic pain."


Pain as a biopsychosocial experience

According to UOC researchers, a great deal of physical pain, such as back pain, has more than just physiological causes, since how we feel at any given time can have an impact. How we interact with those around us can also influence pain.

That is why the so-called 'psychosocial interventions' were invented, the researchers say. These are therapies that incorporate techniques like cognitive restructuring; that is, being aware that how we think affects how we feel and experience pain and that we should swap negative thoughts for more adaptive ones. It also refers to the use of distraction, where a certain action takes our attention off our pain so we are not as fixated on it and it affects us less.


Open survey

In order to find out just how Spain's lockdown is affecting those with some form of chronic pain, the researchers have launched a survey among the general public. Only adults are asked to participate, and they will have until 9 May to submit their answers. With the questionnaire, which takes about 15 minutes,

the researchers hope to obtain data to help them understand how different pain triggers have affected chronic pain sufferers during their confinement. The idea is to verify different scientific hypotheses that could serve to improve biopsychosocial treatments for people with chronic pain. As Nieto said, "Having this information is important; if being confined does indeed affect chronic pain, we will have to think about and design strategies for similar scenarios in the future."

Joining Nieto in the study is fellow eHealth Lab researcher and Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences professor Beatriz Sora, as well as Rebeca Pardo, a clinical psychologist and UNIR researcher and professor and Juan Vicente Luciano Devis and Albert Feliu Soler, researchers at the Sant Joan de Du Research Institute.


Photograph of Rubn Nieto Luna

Rubn Nieto Luna

Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences

Expert in: Chronic pain research (assessment, risk factors and secondary prevention); development of online interventions for health problems (especially problems involving pain).

Knowledge area: Personality, psychological assessment and treatments, and health and the Internet.

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Foto de la profesora Beatriz Sora Miana

Beatriz Sora Miana

Expert in: Psychology of organizations and work (job insecurity: the threat of losing one's job).

Knowledge area: Psicologia.

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