Every year, back pain charity BackCare (the National Back Pain Association) shines a light on one of the most prevalent complaints of modern times.
This year, Back Care Awareness Week pays particular attention to a topic many are familiar with — working from home.
When the first UK Coronavirus lockdown began in March 2020, millions of people faced having to work from home — perhaps for the first time in their careers.
While working from home may sound relaxing at first — no commute to work and more time around the house to prep dinner, run errands and spend time with family — it can be detrimental to our bodies.
Poor posture is one of the prime culprits of back pain, and while occasionally working from the sofa won’t do significant damage, over the long term, it can cause tension and muscle tightness, giving you a backache that just won’t go away.
So what can you do about it? Improving your posture can make a real difference to your back pain, so in the spirit of 2021 Back Care Awareness Week, we’re sharing our tips for improving your back pain while working from home.
How does bad posture cause back pain?
First, what effect does bad posture have on the back? When you have incorrect posture, such as slouching over your laptop, sitting on a dining chair that provides little support or resting on your front with your neck raised, you put stress on your muscle tissue, spinal joints and discs. If you only occasionally slouch, for example, and then return to normal posture, you relieve the strain on your joints, but continued bad posture, such as slouching for hours every day while you work, can weaken your back, causing pain and stiffness.
How to correct your posture
1. Invest in an ergonomic chair…
A couple of years ago, investing in a home office you use only a couple of times a month to meet a short deadline might have seemed a waste, but today, there’s never been a better case for setting up your home for work.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 24% of companies that were not forced to shut down for good due to COVID-19 stated that they intended to increase working from home going forward.
It seems that homeworkers don’t want to return to the office permanently, either, with 85% in favour of a hybrid model.
Whatever happens, homeworking appears to be here to stay, and getting an ergonomic chair can be one of your best investments. Ergonomic office chairs are specifically designed to correct your posture and keep you comfortable while sitting for extended periods.
It’s also worth checking with your employer — if they offer health insurance or a health subsidy, you may be able to get the equipment you need without spending a penny.
2. …Or adapt your chair for better support
Perhaps you’re light on space and don’t fancy plopping a desk and chair in the middle of your living room, but that doesn’t mean you have to make do with sitting on an uncomfortable dining chair.
Because most chairs aren’t curved at the base to provide lumbar support, you might find it difficult to sit straight. To prevent yourself from slouching, put a cushion or towel behind your lower back. Also, watch the height of your table — you don’t want to be reaching for your keyboard, which can put pressure on the neck and shoulder.
If you need to sit a bit higher to work comfortably, sit on a couple of cushions and keep your feet firmly on the floor to create a stable base for your spine.
3. Take frequent breaks
When working from home, it’s easy to let the hours go by without taking a break, especially if you’re used to working in an office and regularly getting up to fetch a drink, catch up with your co-workers or get a manager’s advice.
Try to get into the habit of standing up once an hour and stretching your legs. Not only will you give your eyes a break from staring at a screen, but you’ll also stop your joints from getting stiff and achy. If possible, though, avoid the temptation of sitting down on the sofa with your phone and scrolling through your social media feed, as craning your neck can make back pain worse.
You might also want to use your break to…
4. Try some posture exercises
Incorporating mini exercise sessions into your work breaks is a great way to keep moving, stay healthy and maintain correct posture. You don’t need a full-on sweat session — some simple stretches to the back and side will introduce some gentle movement to the spine and loosen any tension.
You might also want to incorporate some kneeling stretches. To do this, start on your hands and knees, bringing your knees under your hips, then move your hips back until you’re sitting on your heels, with both hands still on the ground. As you move back, lower your head to gently stretch your spine before slowly returning to the starting position.
Adding a few posture exercises into your daily routine will help keep back pain at bay and leave you feeling invigorated as you sit back down to work.
What to do if you have severe back pain
If you have severe back pain, it’s important to reach out for help. If you choose private physiotherapy at our London Hospital, we’ll look at the way you move and diagnose a plan for treatment, such as tailored exercise to strengthen your body and improve your general mobility. We’ll also be able to offer advice on improving your posture and use manual therapy to relieve pain and stiffness in your back.
If physiotherapy and adapting your work environment aren’t helping, it might be that you’re experiencing back pain while working from home due to an existing condition, such as sciatica or a slipped disk. In this case, speak to your GP. They’ll examine your back and can refer you to get a scan to identify the cause of your pain. From here, your doctor will formulate a treatment plan, which may include medication for the pain, injections or surgery.
If you’re worried about your back pain and would like to speak to a consultant to determine the right treatment plan for you, you can book an appointment with a private GP or our private physiotherapy team.