Long Covid Fibromyalgia: Perspectives from Pain Psychology
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Long Covid Fibromyalgia 
Perspectives from Pain Psychology

April 15, 2024

Photo of a woman rubbing a fibromyalgia pain point on the back of her shoulderThe COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in chronic health issues worldwide. A new group of individuals are suffering from Long Covid, with symptoms that resemble the widespread pain often found in fibromyalgia.

Recognizing an increase in fibromyalgia-like symptoms reported by patients after becoming infected with COVID-19 led Dennis Given, PsyD '05, a pain psychologist working in the Fibromyalgia Program at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, and Joseph Harrison, MS, MBDS, (PsyD '25), a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral candidate at PCOM, to collaborate on their case study, “Biopsychosocial Management of Long Covid Fibromyalgia: Lessons from the Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Fibromyalgia Program.”

The article is published in The Journal for Integrated Primary Care (JIPC)—PCOM's first peer-reviewed scientific journal, which aims to grow the evidence base related to integrated primary care professional education, practice and intervention—and includes a summary of their clinical experiences with patients in the Fibromyalgia Program. It also provides information on how Long Covid may lead to the development of fibromyalgia symptoms that include widespread pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances and impairments in cognitive functioning.

Considering a new population of patients

Patients experiencing symptoms of Long Covid may require support through multifaceted pain management approaches that focus on enhancing the patient's functional abilities and overall quality of life, and that consider the biological, psychological and social aspects of their lives.

“I had noticed that many patients were presenting with new onset pain symptoms that were similar to fibromyalgia after having contracted COVID-19. Given that so much was unknown about COVID, I was curious whether having the virus directly led to the development of fibromyalgia or if a new pain disorder had emerged with similar features,” Dr. Given said.

The case study asks healthcare providers to adapt practices developed for fibromyalgia patients into practices for Long Covid fibromyalgia patients, and suggests a biopsychosocial framework for clinicians to consider when supporting this frequently marginalized population.

“This patient community encounters significant stigma and barriers to their care, and enhancing their quality of life through an interdisciplinary pain management program provides one example of how supportive care can be delivered,” Harrison said.

The study, “Biopsychosocial Management of Long Covid Fibromyalgia,” is particularly relevant to healthcare professionals working on interdisciplinary teams to treat patients with chronic pain, but JIPC covers the spectrum of clinical research. Pleased that their study was selected for publication, Given and Harrison felt JIPC aligned with the work they were doing in a medical setting with a focus on mind-body problems.

JIPC is positioned to disseminate clinically useful information and impact how providers interact with their patients today,” Harrison said. “Just as an important advantage of integrated care is to increase access to collaborative management of complex medical conditions, JIPC can highlight the important work of diverse integrated care providers and really move the needle on improving integrated care practices.”

The authors hope that their study will provide a useful review of best practices for screening, diagnosing and treating patients with Long Covid fibromyalgia—especially, as Harrison said, those “who may be feeling misunderstood and lost in a healthcare system that has struggled to widely implement biopsychosocial pain management services for patients with chronic pain syndromes.”

The mentorship experience

PCOM doctoral candidate Joseph Harrison (PsyD '25)When Dr. Given started working with Harrison as his supervisor during his 2022-2023 practicum placement at PCOM, he discovered that he was an exceptional student with a bright future as an emerging health psychologist. Harrison's regular involvement with the fibromyalgia clinic led to their case study collaboration, and Dr. Given mentored Harrison through the process of conceptualizing the clinical issue and outlining best practices for clinical care.

“Professional mentorship like this was essential for me to see how pain psychologists function on interdisciplinary teams in healthcare settings,” Harrison said. “I very ardently believe this was a unique and formative experience as a student clinician.”

The mentorship experience amplified Harrison's interest in clinical health psychology and helped him to develop a vision for how clinical care can be influenced by asking research questions and sharing lessons learned from clinical experiences.

“Dr. Given not only provided opportunities to help me develop important competencies in psychological assessment but regularly encouraged me to incorporate new research into the experience,” Harrison said. “He encouraged me to think more deeply about the patients we were working with to consider how each patient's medical, psychological and social context interacted with their illness experience.”

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