18th November 2021

A different kind of long COVID

In more pain than normal? Social distancing could be the cause.
A different kind of long COVID
unsplash.com @Emma Shulzhenko

Although the end of restrictions may be nye, the effects of social distancing may continue. Researchers at universities in Taiwan and China have highlighted one way this spill-over into ‘normal life’ could occur.

The researchers set about to study the relationship between COVID-19 social distancing and pain. Conducting two experiments, they aimed to establish whether pain perception and pain sensitivity were affected by reminding participants of social distancing. 

Pain perception was measured using a nine-point self-report scale of pain and pain sensitivity was assessed based on pressure applied by an algometer, a device used to calculate the amount of pressure that generates the feeling of pain.

It was found in both experiments that priming participants to think about social distancing genuinely increased both perception and sensitivity to pain. This agreed with the researchers’ original predictions as previous studies into the role of social connection showed that increasing social support can decrease sensitivity to both social and physical pain.

COVID-19 has already had a massive impact on the lives of many students. Graduations have been cancelled, teaching styles have changed and contact hours have been drastically reduced. However, not only may this have had a direct impact on the university experience, the indirect effects of social distancing may have also had longer-lasting effects.

Although the long-term implications of social distancing may not yet have been fully established, this research has recognised how social support and a need for a ‘community’ are vital aspects of society. Increasing that sense of togetherness within institutions like universities, schools and businesses should be a priority for all leadership as interpersonal connection can have widespread impacts on the health of members of those groups.

Vaccination schemes, the use of facemasks and sanitisation bring hope that we can return to a more ‘normal’ way of living soon. Regardless, the long-term effects of COVID-19 may stay with us for years to come.

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