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New Analysis Illustrates Extent of “Pandemic Pain”: Data Reveals Major Increases in Physical Ailments Associated with Pandemic Lifestyle Changes

MDLIVE Reports Proportion of Visits Rose Substantially for Back and Neck Pain; Increases also seen in Headaches, Migraines, and Eye and Ear Conditions

MIRAMAR, FL, May 5, 2021 — With millions of Americans forced online over the past year for work, school, entertainment and socializing, and as physical activity and exercise sharply declined1, a new analysis released by national telehealth provider MDLIVE, an Evernorth company, shows substantial increases during the pandemic in the share of patient diagnoses of back and neck pain, eye strain and vision problems, headaches and migraines, and earaches and hearing loss.

The analysis was conducted to provide a perspective on the toll the past year’s excessively virtual and sedentary pandemic lifestyle has taken on the nation’s physical health.

MDLIVE conducted the analysis by examining more than 1 million diagnoses made by its network providers from telehealth visits on the MDLIVE platform between March 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021, compared to the prior year.  The diagnoses included visits for both pediatric and adult patients.

“While there’s been a great deal of attention on the psychological effects of the pandemic, our data is also pointing to the harm daily life has had on Americans’ physical well-being during this past year,” said Cynthia Zelis, MD, Chief Medical Officer of MDLIVE. “Make-shift work and school home set-ups that are not well designed for long hours spent on computers, as well as the expanded virtual lifestyle people have been forced to lead is showing up in a wide range of painful and debilitating conditions.”

The percentage of diagnoses in the analysis for muscular and spinal conditions of the back and neck doubled over the last year compared to the pre-pandemic year, as COVID-19 dramatically changed the way people work and play. While the year-over-year increase was equally seen among both females and males, the number of visits for back and neck pain was 30% higher for females than for males during the pandemic.

The issues may also be extending into the extremities, as people clock longer workdays on keyboards while working from home2.  The data from the analysis also showed that visits for muscle, nerve and tendon problems of the arm and hand saw the biggest proportional increase among the conditions analyzed, up 150%, although the number of such visits was relatively small.

Digital usage and screen time surged in 20203, a trend that may be manifesting in increased vision issues, headaches and migraines during the pandemic.  According to the analysis, the share of visits for eye conditions such as eye strain, eye fatigue and blurred vision rose 33% during the analysis period, while headaches increased by 60% and migraines increased 75%.  Females suffered from these conditions more than males, having over twice as many visits for those complaints in the past year.

In another reflection of the impact of the pandemic lifestyle, MDLIVE saw a 20% jump in the share of patients with ear pain and hearing loss. Extensive use of headphones, earbuds and other such devices has been associated with increased risk of ear and auditory problems, as devices inserted into the ear canal can increase wax build-up and cause earaches and infections4.

“It’s encouraging to see that people chose to seek out care rather than delay care or ignore these issues,” said Dr. Zelis.  “However, it’s important for everyone to remember some of the simple things they can do to minimize these issues: taking frequent breaks, stepping away from screens and keyboards, engaging in some regular physical activity like taking a walk or doing some stretching.  These things are all good for your body, and good for your mind.”


MDLIVE, an Evernorth company, is a leading provider of virtual health care services in the U.S. with more than 60 million members nationwide. We work with our health plan, health system, and self-insured employer partners to give patients convenient and affordable access to the highest quality medical and behavioral health care, 24/7, from the comfort and safety of their homes. With a vision and passion for changing health care for the better, we are working to improve the patient experience, close the patient-provider accessibility gap, and bring providers opportunities to augment the services they currently offer. To learn more about MDLIVE, visit, download our app, or text “Sophie” to MDLIVE (635483) to register.

1Giuntella et al., “Lifestyle and mental health disruptions during COVID-19,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 2, 2021

2Atlassian research, November 2020

3eMarketer, Insider Intelligence, January 26, 2021

4Mukhopadhyay C, Basak S, Gupta S, Chawla K, Bairy I. A comparative analysis of bacterial growth with earphone use. Online J Health Allied Scs. 2008;7(2):4


Amy Trow, (412) 377-3771

Coyne PR
Courtney Ambrosi, (973) 588-2037
Tess Rollano, (973) 588-2204


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Amy Trow