Researcher examines the social impact of COVID-19 on chronic pain sufferers

GCU Reader in the Department of Psychology, Dr Jo McParland, has been involved in an important review into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with chronic pain.

The review, entitled ‘The social threats of COVID-19 for people with chronic pain’, was published in PAIN, The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain.

Chronic pain, defined as persistent or intermittent pain that lasts for at least three months, affects between one third and one half of the UK population.

Dr McParland was part of an international team, invited by the leading pain journal, to carry out a topical review into the challenges faced by chronic pain sufferers during the pandemic. The review examines the social impact of the pandemic for those with chronic pain, suggests strategies to mitigate the social impact of the pandemic and proposes research questions to direct future research in the area.

The researcher is part a Social Aspects of Pain Special Interests Group, which is attached to the International Association for the Study of Pain.  She decided to get in touch with other group members to look at whether they could so something to respond to the pandemic and this led to the review. Dr McParland co-led the review with researchers Kai Karos, from the Centre for the Psychology of Learning and Experimental Psychopathology in Belgium, and Claire Ashton-James, from the Pain Management Research Institute at the University of Sydney, Australia.

She said: “Within the review we wanted to highlight the particular social challenges faced by people who have chronic pain in the context of the pandemic, this could be linked to aspects of their care, or inequalities they have been exposed to, then make recommendations for research as we emerge from the pandemic.

“The review reports the potential for social disconnection and loneliness resulting from disruption to social roles and relationships; the risks associated with increased social proximity, such as potential loss of independence and increased conflict; reduced access to high quality pain management and the potential for the exacerbation of social injustices and inequalities including, for example, socioeconomic disadvantage that can leave individuals vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We suggested strategies to mitigate these impacts, including the use of technology and online interventions to promote social connectedness and reduce loneliness, and provide priorities for research to mitigate and prevent sources of social threat for people with chronic pain and develop new ways of working to socially support the individual with chronic pain.”

The review has been identified as Editor’s choice for an edition of the journal.  The full review can be accessed here.

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