Physiotherapy Back Pain

It’s September, restrictions have been eased and we have returned to some sort of sense of normality. There are countless terms we could use to describe the last 18 months but we’ll settle for ‘different’. During this time many of us have transitioned from office workers to home working warriors. Whilst home and remote working has been on the up for the last 5 years, the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the trend. Around 12 months ago we wrote an article on the challenges that home workers may face through the winter months and as we sit here 12 months on, we can’t help but feel that many of them are still relevant.

So, homeworking – it has undoubtedly become the new normal and don’t get us wrong, we know it may feel like a blessing when the temperature drops, almost the perfect setup in some ways. No need to move from the warmth of bed to start work. Or maybe you are the sofa type, downstairs with a cup of coffee setup on the sofa with your laptop. Sure, spending a day on the sofa or tucked up bed is fine every once in a while. However, if done over a prolonged period can you guess who’s coming for a visit? Back pain. (Could be our physiotherapists too, we do home visits you know)

But fear not… Let’s revisit our 5 top tips on working from home.

1. Keep on moving

If you’ve endured a lengthy Zoom call or two then this one’s definitely for you. Why stay shackled to the desk or sofa when you can be up and moving around the house. Try standing or walking around the dining room or even take a few trips up and down the stairs. Changing your posture throughout the working day has been linked to a significant reduction in back and neck pain. And if that’s not enough… standing for as little as 3 hours per day, 5 days per week for a full year burns the same number of calories as running 10 marathons.

2. Create a comfortable workstation

There are many people out there who already have an office set-up at home. Whether that’s a desk with office chair and a PC or using a laptop at the dining room table. In any scenario, it’s vital that we’re sitting in the correct position to protect our spine.

If you’re using your dining room as a temporary office then try using a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse to create a makeshift desktop set-up. This will allow you to find a more neutral sitting posture, reducing the strain on your spine. If you don’t have a separate screen try a laptop stand.

The bed or sofa may seem like a perfectly comfortable workspace, but they can force you into postures and positions your body isn’t normally used to. And then we add in the laptop or tablet, as convenient as they are, we’re afraid to say these things can wreak havoc on the neck and upper/lower back when working from home.

3. Sofas and beds are not your friends

When we sit up in bed, our spine’s natural curves are taken away, we sit in a bent ‘C’ shaped position putting increased force at the base of the neck or lower back. Think ‘Tech neck’ where the head is tilting forward and looking down with protracted (rounded) shoulders and a curved upper back. This position causes all of the big stabiliser muscles in the upper back to be placed in a lengthened stretched position, leaving them unable to effectively do their job in this ‘new’ position.

So, what takes up the slack…? That’s right, the neck! This position places us at an increased risk of picking up disc or joint-related pain in the neck, as joints become stiff and stabilising muscles become weak.

It’s a similar situation with the sofa, if not worse. In this more upright position, the neck is forced to look down at the laptop, which is now in a lower position than on bed or at a desk. This forces the head into an even greater forward position. For every 2-3cm your head pokes forward, the load on your neck and shoulder muscles, intervertebral discs and spinal joints doubles. So, if your head pokes forward 2-3cm the stress on your neck may increase to 10-12kg of constant pressure. If your head pokes forward 4-6cm the stress on your neck may increase to a whopping 20kg of constant pressure!

4. Invest in your choice of chair

Most businesses will have supplied a decent standard of office chair for their staff so a sudden change from the norm can have a real impact on your back. We’ve all been on that long-awaited holiday and woke up after the first-night longing for our own bed, as we try to gracefully get-up holding our neck or lower back. Our bodies are simply not lovers of sudden change, and this definitely applies to your chair. Spend some time selecting a comfortable ergonomic chair that can be adjusted with at least the following basic functions:

  • Height adjustment
  • Back adjustment
  • Lumbar support
  • Armrests
  • Tilt function

In some circumstances, your employer may allow you to ‘borrow’ your office chair for the duration of the ‘work from home period’. There’s no harm in asking nicely.

5. Come see us or even let us come see you!

Our specialist physiotherapists can offer help and advice on correct home working set-up and are on hand to assist with any pains and aches that may arise. Visiting us sooner rather than later when you feel a little stiff can be the difference between 2 treatments and 10 treatments.

To find out more about our clinic or home visits, book an appointment with our physiotherapists today.

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