COVID, Mood, and Gratitude: Secondary Side Effects of the Virus That We Can Adjust

Written by Dr. Bill Booker

On November 30, 2020
Two people sharing a milkshake while wearing masks

During this time of year, it is customary to give thanks. I want to start by giving thanks to Dr. Matt Buchanan who performed my Achilles surgery. It wasn’t long ago that Achilles surgery meant a painful 9-12 months for full recovery. When I had my procedure, Dr. Buchanan told me that he expected me to be hiking the Appalachian Trail by the end of 12 weeks. It has been eight weeks since my surgery and I think Dr. Buchanan may be right! I’m already walking and getting around more or less like normal.

But if I’m going to be thankful for Dr. Buchanan, I have to also be thankful for my physical therapy staff of Gina Hahn, Lauren Shaub, Lyn Stewart, and Miri Choe. Not only are they actively and aggressively getting me back up and going, they referred me to Dr. Buchanan in the first place!

Twice a week I check in with my team and let them put me through tortuous soft tissue work, often a series of humbling exercises focused on balance, flexibility, and strength. Most importantly, they consistently help me establish aggressive but realistic goals

I’m also thankful for the opportunity to continue to serve Arlington and the greater Washington, DC, area. The COVID epidemic has surfaced a “new age” of complaints and physical maladies. At Capitol Rehab, we have been dealing with “The ‘Vid,” as some call it, much like everyone else. But also we have found a huge uptick in the number of patients presenting with one of three complaints:

  1. Lower back pain that came on for no apparent reason.
  2. Middle back pain that is often described as a feeling of someone is stabbing you between the shoulders.
  3. Neck pain that can feel heavy or like your head is tugging away from your shoulders.

Patients regularly say pretty much the same thing: “I didn’t do anything to cause this so why is this happening to me?”

The simple, and often correct, thing for us to do is blame COVID — but not because the virus is directly causing these discomforts. Rather, the dramatic changes to our lifestyles have meant a disruption in most of our daily routines, a lack of consistent exercise, and a lot of sitting and changes in posture.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, you’re not alone. It is becoming a common finding and we don’t expect it to go away any time soon. What’s worse, the sedentery nature of our new normal has meant more time on our devices, which can also cause headaches and vision problems as well as other side effects.

Dr. Erik Peper, a professor at San Francisco State University’s Institute for Holistic Health Studies, recently wrote a book that describes the impacts of personal technology on our physical and emotional well-being. In a recent webinar, a clip of which is below, he notes that the tendency to look down at our phones causes us to slouch. Slouching is indicative of core and back weakness and can cause neck pain. But Peper adds that slouching is also a biomechanical action associated with feelings of hopelessness and defeat.

We know that prolonged bouts of pain can also lead us toward thoughts of hopelessness and defeat. If you’re feeling down and out these days, no one can blame you. COVID is really challenging our mental wellbeing. But if you’re in a lousy mood, check your posture, and if you’re slouching sit up and think of feelings of gratitude. And then schedule a time to meet with one of our PTs, massage therapists, and chiropractors so that we can help you reduce that neck and back pain. You’ll be thankful that you did.


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