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“Social” versus “physical” distance

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of PainScience.com: a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

The term “social distancing” was hijacked by the COVID-19 pandemic. It used to exclusively refer to the chasms between social groups and classes, the many kinds of distance between rich and poor, black and white, men and women, and so on.

Lonely dog is lonely.

For example, a homeless person can be surrounded by relatively rich people close enough to touch but emotionally as out of reach as the moon. That kind of distance has many implications for healthcare generally, and even for pain specifically. For instance, while not all social distance involves social isolation and/or loneliness, some of it sure does — and lonely people hurt more (see Smith et al).

Ideally, we would speak of the need for increase physical distance to protect each other from an infectious disease, while we try to actually reduce social distance to protect each other from other kinds of health problems! (And some injustice while we’re at it.)

I’ve added this point to this article, which continues to evolve: Chronic Pain and Inequality: The role of racism, sexism, queerphobia, and poverty in health and chronic pain.

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