How To Prevent Back Pain Whilst Working From Home
2020 has been an extremely strange year, to say the least.
One thing we’ve seen an explosion in is working from home.
As the pandemic has accelerated all existing technological trends, nothing has accelerated faster than the transition from office working to home working.
Multiple office buildings in Crawley have seen a large percentage of workers on furlough, working semi-permanently from home or even transitioning full time to home working.
In many cases the speed of transition came so fast that millions of people were not adequately set up in their homes to have a computer, keyboard, mouse and paperwork in place.
Therefore many of us are now working in our kitchen, bedroom, or our best attempt makeshift office in a spare room that hasn’t been used in years.
I noticed this in clinic when a higher-than-normal number of client’s attended due to back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, hip pain that they felt had been a direct result of working at home in a non-ideal set up, causing new muscular tightness and strain on the body they’ve never had before.
Today I want to focus on what you can do specifically if you’re experiencing any type of back pain – whether it be lower, mid or upper back pain – that you also feel may be due to working from home.
Fundamental principles of back pain prevention
The first and most important thing to remember is that the human body and spine have evolved to move.
It’s easy to accept strange habits when you live in an era where everyone does that same strange habit.
Sitting for most of our waking hours is extremely strange, as far as our spine is concerned. Before the invention of TV’s, sofas, comfortable chairs and cars we wouldn’t have to think about how long we sat for, because we would have had no choice but to move around more frequently.
Nowadays, we wake up from 8 hours of laying down, sit in a car to go to work, then sit on our work chair, then sit at the cafe for lunch, continue to sit on our work chair, sit back in the car to drive home, sit on a sofa to watch TV, sit on a chair to eat dinner and than go to lay down again on the bed.
We’ve known about the negative effects of sitting in a scientific manner since the 1950’s when we discovered that double decker bus drivers (who sat 90% of the time) were twice as likely to have heart attacks than their colleagues who were conductors (who climbed on average 600 steps per day).
The spine also takes the brunt for this newly adopted habit. When we sit for prolonged periods, we are continuously increasing the pressure on the discs, making it more likely we will have disc bulges or prolapses, disc degeneration disease, muscle spasm around the spine, weak gluteal (buttock) muscles, problems with the hip joints, and much more.
This is all a long way of saying that the most important adaptation you make when working from home is to… not sit.
I would highly recommend that you take a break from sitting every 20 minutes, if your job allows for it.
If not, then take a break every hour. Do not sit for longer than an hour at a time unless you absolutely have to.
During the break, I would take 5 minutes to simply walk around the home. It’s very important you don’t go on your mobile, as this negates the effects of standing, moving the pressure from your lower back to your neck.
The importance of a good work-desk setup
As a physiotherapist in Crawley I know many people are currently working from home, and many people are also working from their kitchen tables or in their bedroom.
This means most people have their computer and chair set up in a way that is not ideal for their spine, nor any of the joints in their body.
Whilst the most important thing to do is avoid long periods of sitting, it’s not practical every day. When we do have to sit and do concentrated work, the key is to ensure you are sitting in a position that minimises excess pressure into the spine.
Ergonomic Trends has done a wonderful job at explaining in full details how to set up your home work environment in an ideal way.
They show in their article how your chair, table and computer should be aligned:
And also what items you should place in front of you to and in what format:
These are the specific recommendations I make to my clients also, and ones I would highly recommend if you are working from home currently.
Stretch, exercise and manual therapy
The third and final tip is to ensure you are doing regular stretches, regular moderate intensity exercise and, I may be slightly biased here… get some physio.
Which stretches and which exercises to do depends very much so on where in your back you’re experiencing pain, the type of pain it is, when and how it started and if you have have any other medical conditions. I can of course help advise you on this during a personalised one-to-one assessment.
Manual hands on therapy also will help to target specific muscles that are in spasm or are very tight, and will allow that knotted never-ending ache feeling to reduce, which will make all the other advice you’ve learnt in this article that much more effective and productive for you once you add those into your daily routine.
If that’s something you’re thinking of doing, please do contact me using the details on this website, and I’ll be sure to help.
I hope this was useful and helpful in laying the groundwork in how you can minimise or prevent back pain during these more challenging times.
Physiotherapist BSc MCSP HPC
Founder and Principal Physiotherapist at Tavistock Clinic.
HCPC Registration Number PH97986
CSP Registration Number 089576