Does COVID-19 Block RA Pain?

The Arizona Republic recently reported that University of Arizona scientists are researching the idea that COVID-19 may temporarily block pain receptors. According to a study published in PAIN: the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain, scientists from the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center found that the virus attaches to a receptor (neuropilin-1 receptor) to infect cells that also results in shutting off a pain pathway.1

Blocked pain receptors in lab mice

The researchers tested this theory of pain relief on 100 mice by injecting them with an inactivated virus that still could block the receptor and compared it to other mice that received placebos. They found the mice with the virus experienced less pain in 30 minutes that lasted for approximately nine hours.1

They think that this may allow people infected with COVID-19 to be less aware of their illness early in the infection before other symptoms appear. The scientists also reported receiving many anecdotal stories from people with chronic pain conditions reporting that while they were ill with COVID-19 their pain lessened, but then returned after recovering from the virus.1 The receptor may be more linked to chronic inflammatory pain (arthritis, back pain, etc.) than other types of pain.

More on this topic

The researchers plan to continue studying the receptor for future pain management treatment options.

COVID-19 paused my RA pain

My personal experience with COVID-19 in the spring mirrors these findings. When I was ill with the virus, my rheumatoid arthritis pain all but disappeared. More amazingly, my near-constant leg swelling vanished. I saw bones in my ankles that I haven’t seen in many years!

Unfortunately, after I recovered from the virus, I struggled with greater fatigue and more RA flares that seemed to come and go without warning. It took a few months for me to feel like my RA achieved a more normal balance after the suppression during the viral illness.

Unraveling the complexities of COVID-19

The pandemic has certainly been terrible and terrifying. My hope is that we can eventually gain something good from studying the virus, like a better understanding pain and developing more treatments for it. I also hope that we can learn more about the immune system and autoimmune conditions from this terrible virus.

There are so many mysteries from COVID-19. Why do some people’s immune systems go into hyper-drive? Why do some children develop a serious autoimmune condition from the virus? How does it interact with people who have rheumatoid arthritis?

How does COVID-19 interact with RA?

For example, I feel extremely fortunate that I had a relatively mild case and recovered. How did the virus seem to lessen my RA symptoms? And why did make my RA come back with a vengeance after the virus? Did the virus distract my RA and keep it busy only for it to rev back up after I recovered?

Can this lead to better RA pain treatments?

I personally have so many questions and am glad to know that scientists are studying this virus, not only to improve treatments for it but to better understand it. Additionally, it would be incredible if improved pain treatment options became possible by studying the virus and grasping how it blocks pain.

While this particular study was only in mice, the foundational findings sound very promising and explain what could be happening to some people with the virus and its impact on chronic pain. It doesn’t explain the change in other RA symptoms, but I think that it is because we are just beginning our explorations.

Hopefully, researchers will continue examining COVID-19 to understand its impact on people with chronic pain and autoimmune conditions, so that we can glean some knowledge from a very dangerous virus. Perhaps by understanding an enemy, we can discover new treatments to help people in the future.

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