Back Pain And Working From Home
The past year has brought enormous changes to everyone’s normal lifestyle. Once a society of people who commuted to and from our jobs, many suddenly found themselves working strictly from home. While a large swath of people felt that telecommuting was convenient, many others discovered that for them, working all day hunched over their PC was less than ideal. Though some office routines may seem tedious, perhaps they actually helped in some ways, like physically. Working from home, with poor posture in makeshift workspaces, seems to have created a new wave of back pain sufferers. (1)
Sure, working in an office designed around ergonomics keeps us in good posture while we sit. But it’s actually other habits that may have benefited our physical well-being. Though traditional office jobs keep us sitting most of the day, we do get up every so often to speak to a colleague, or run to the printer, or make some copies. At home, folks tend to sit all day with Zoom meetings, emails, work and social media, just staring at a computer screen. Without a commute, some are working longer hours, without breaks, and without a reprieve.
Sitting is not the enemy in this situation. It’s the long hours of sitting that lead to intense back pain, and slowly causing physical harm. Back pain is the single leading cause for disability in the world. Even with the convenience of working from home, back pain is still the number one reason people miss work. Back pain also costs Americans billions of dollars in health care each year. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to improve our at-home work scenario, prevent back pain, and improve our quality of life. (2)
Set Up Work From Home Space
Despite what we have been told lately of the dangers of sitting, it’s not the act of sitting that causes us physical harm. It’s the lack of other movement that leads to severe back pain and other issues. So, standing more isn’t the solution. What we want is to create a dynamic workstation such that we’re moving more– in tiny ways– throughout the day. Our chair, desk, and computer all play into preventing back pain. (3)
Finding the right seating position is one of the most important components to preventing back pain while working from home. Choose a chair not for its comfort or cushioning to solve chiropractic issues. We don’t want to sit in the chair more, we want to change our position regularly. A chair that supports us in good posture is best, with good lower-back support. Hunching forward or completely upright forces the lower back to curve into the body. Sit back in your chair, but close enough to reach the keyboard. And change your position regularly. (3,4)
Next focus on where to place your computer. Computers should be at a comfortable viewing height so we aren’t constantly looking down onto the screen. If possible, use an external keyboard, so you can raise the computer screen to eye level. If necessary, place the screen on a stack of books so you are looking at the screen, and not down, straining the neck. Avoid placing the keyboard and screen at different angles that cause you to constantly twist your neck. As much as possible, try to maintain good natural posture while working at the computer. (1,4)
Train for Less Back Pain
Your desk, chair, and computer positioning should help with posture. Maintaining the natural curves of your spine and eliminating strain on muscles is key for preventing back pain and neck pain too. But we can also train our body for good posture while we aren’t sitting. “Practicing good posture” can be done anywhere, and means that we are mindfully maintaining those natural curves of our back in order to keep it strong. (5)
Practice standing with good posture by placing a book on your head. You can’t keep the book balanced while hunched over; you need to stand up straight. (5)
Move More While Working From Home
Physical activity is wonderful for keeping the body conditioned, a way to take care of the body so the body will take care of us. Exercise definitely helps improve posture. But exercising once a day and then sitting in one position for the remainder of the day doesn’t benefit us. We are meant to move! So, move more throughout the day, not just once a day, to make working at home less strenuous on your back. (1)
One of the best recommendations for at-home workers is to set an alarm on your phone to go off every twenty to thirty minutes. Stand up and stretch, get some water, or take a short break to get up and move. Take a short walk; getting outside allows us some fresh air to revitalize creativity and focus. (3)
If taking a walk is too much for you, simply walk around your home. Stretching and flowing movements help with posture and preventing back pain. Activities like tai chi and yoga poses can help you relax and stay centered. (1)
Back Pain Prevention Stretches
There are many exercises to prevent back pain. Choose the ones that you enjoy and feel right for you. Discuss some ideas with your primary care physician, as well.
Here are some quick stretches to ease back pain you can use during your movement breaks.
Shoulder blade squeeze: While sitting or standing, squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you. Keep good posture with shoulders pulled down the back and together. (6)
Cat-cow: From hands and knees, arch your back toward the ceiling like a cat, tucking your chin toward your chest. Look toward your belly. Then gently reverse the movement, shifting the gaze toward the ceiling and letting the back sway. Send the tailbone up toward the ceiling too. (6)
Lower Back rotation: Lay on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor. Slowly bring both knees to one side, keeping shoulders on the floor. Repeat on the other side. (6)
Take Care of Your Body At Home or at Work
Whether you are returning to the office or remain telecommuting from home, it’s important to stay healthy– physically and mentally. Sleeping well, eating well, and practicing healthy habits will help us be the best we can be, no matter where we are. (5)
What we do outside of work has as much bearing on our health and well-being as what we do while on the clock. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, one that is sustainable for you. Improving your cardiovascular fitness helps your entire body, including your back. (1)
Taking care of our body allows us to show up as our best selves for work, school, our family, and community. Give yourself, and your back, a little loving care each day, and very soon you’ll likely experience much less physical discomfort.
- Bowman, K. Don’t Just Sit There. Propriometrics Press, Washington, 2015.
- Goodman, E. True to Form. Harper Wave, New York, 2016.