Musculoskeletal Pain in Students Under COVID-19 Conditions – A Translational Meta-Synthesis for Personalised Rehabilitation

(Pages 16-29)
Wolfgang Mastnak

Beijing Normal University / Research Centre for Arts Therapies



Abstract: Background and objective: During the era of COVID-19 narrative data have given evidence of musculoskeletal discomfort and pain in students and causal connections with modes of distance learning as well as psychosocial stress and despair are likely. This phenomenon appears underrepresented in medical research and efficient support is needed. The present article elucidates complex pathogenic factors and suggests self-regulation techniques for curative and rehabilitative purposes.
Methods: On the basis of empirical, psychophysiological and narrative data the present translational systemic meta-synthesis constructs a theoretical framework to elucidate musculoskeletal discomfort and pain in students under COVID-19 distance learning conditions.
Results: Remote learning in higher education entails two interconnected risk conditions. Excessive use of non-ergonomic notebook-based participation in classes goes hand in hand with ‘poor’ posture, neck tension and tight shoulders, muscle stiffness caused by immobility and eye strain headache. In addition to the adverse influence of excessive sedentary academic work on the students’ mood and emotional wellbeing, a complex cluster of negative psychosocial conditions affects the musculoskeletal system: COVID-19 related anxieties, mental stress, anger and feelings of helplessness as well as social isolation and loneliness. Taking these pathogenic factors and previous studies on sports-based self-regulation techniques to modulate musculoskeletal pain into account, a curative and rehabilitative model for affected and/or at-risk students is suggested.
Discussion: Mono-causal and inflexible study designs of evidence based medicine seem to be unable to adequately represent the complex COVID-19 phenomenon and advanced techniques of dynamic systemic simulation gain momentum. This requires a new awareness of epistemology in medical and public health areas alongside enhanced translational research. From a practical perspective universities should enhance heath promoting and rehabilitative support which is tailored to control prevalent pathogenic conditions in students. This also brings challenges of post-COVID-19 issues and future pandemics into play. Controversial political and medical views as well as conflicting arguments about the suitability of measures and multifarious ‘collateral damage’ call for ideology-free and science-based collaboration.

Keywords: Action research, Back pain, Body awareness, Display screen equipment DSE, Medical epistemology, Musculoskeletal discomfort, Pandemics, Self-regulation, Tension-type headache, Visual display unit VDU.