Longitudinal study of early adaptation to the coronavirus disease pandemic among youth with chronic pain and their parents: effects of direct exposures and economic stress

Pain. 2021 Jul 1;162(7):2132-2144. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000002290.


The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has caused prolonged disruptions in daily life for many communities. Little is known about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and well-being of youth with chronic pain and their families. We conducted a longitudinal, mixed-methods study to characterize early adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic among 250 families of youth (ages 12-21 years) diagnosed with chronic headache (64%) or other chronic pain conditions (36%) and to determine whether direct exposures to COVID-19 and secondary economic stress modified symptom trajectories. Youth and parents reported on pain interference, anxiety, depression, and insomnia symptoms at 4 waves of data collection from April 2020 to July 2020. We also collected qualitative data on the impact of the pandemic on the youth's pain problem. Nearly half of our sample (49.6%) experienced direct exposures to COVID-19. Secondary economic stress was also common, affecting 44.4% of families. Symptom trajectories for pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety remained stable or improved for most participants, indicating adaptive adjustment. However, overall symptom burden was high with persistent and clinically elevated depression, anxiety, and insomnia symptoms common among youth and parents. Direct exposures to COVID-19 did not modify symptom trajectories. However, youth pain interference and parent insomnia worsened in families who experienced secondary economic stress. Qualitative data revealed perceived benefits and harms from school closures on the youth's pain problem. Our findings of high symptom burden suggest that pediatric pain clinicians should offer distance assessment and treatment (eg, through telemedicine) to avoid pandemic-related disruptions in pain care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Child
  • Chronic Pain* / epidemiology
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / etiology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pandemics
  • Parents
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Young Adult