According to spine health surgeons and medical professionals, the prolonged period of work-from-home arrangements has led to a rise in reported cases of back pain. Workers are experiencing more discomfort in their lower, middle, and upper backs than they did in 2019 when the economy was open.
The Causes Of The Current Back Pain Epidemic
Even before the onset of the pandemic, back pain was endemic in the population. Around three-quarters of all adults experienced it at one point in their working lives. But since remote working took off, the number of reported incidents rose by more than 30 percent, marking a sea-change in the prevalence of the condition. Worse still, many patients are having to wait a long time to see a doctor because of the sheer quantity of medical resources going to COVID-19.
According to experts, long periods of staying at home is leading to poor posture. Workers are not sitting correctly in their chairs. And many have poor ergonomic setups, using improper desk arrangement, screen heights, and keyboard positions.
Tension is flowing through the back in ways that simply didn’t happen before the pandemic. In office environments, workers would constantly get up, move around and go from place to place. But at home, the need to reposition oneself physically isn’t there. And so many workers are rolling out of bed and sitting in their office chairs all day long without moving.
Most of the reported cases of back pain relate to a condition called radiculopathy where pain radiates from the spine and down the legs. Usually, this condition occurs after several months of sitting in a chair in the same position. It happens when the muscles and nerves running through the buttocks become trapped, leading to shooting pains in the upper thighs.
In mild cases, regular exercise can usually reverse the condition and prevent it from causing pain. But in more serious cases, managing the pain is a full-time occupation. Doctors will often prescribe heavy-duty drugs, such as corticosteroids, to control the pain and inflammation.
Patients with existing conditions, such as lumbar scoliosis, are experiencing even more difficulties. In normal times, general movement throughout the day would provide the necessary impetus to keep the body supple and moving. But during remote working, many people with pre-existing back conditions have had no reason to move. And this has, in many cases, actually made their conditions worse.
How To Prevent Back Pain During The Pandemic
In this section, we take a look at some of the ways you can protect your back and prevent pain from becoming a dominating force in your life.
Reduce Your Bodyweight
When it comes to back pain, excessive body weight is a major contributing factor. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that being overweight puts more strain on all the tissues in your body, including the back. As you lean over your desk, the weight at the front attempts to crush the discs between the vertebrae, and can even change the shape of the spine over long periods.
The second has to do with the conditions in the body itself. When you are overweight, it becomes more challenging for your blood to transport nutrients to every cell in your body. And that’s particularly critical for the spine since it absorbs the things it needs passively from the blood supply. There are no active channels. When you’re overweight, it can indicate a problem in your arteries, preventing blood from traveling to where you need it the most.
Strengthen Your Core
Sometimes, chronic back pain can emerge because of muscular imbalances at the front of your body. If your abdominals are weak, then they can’t keep your trunk centered. And that can lead to excessive strain on your back.
The best approach here is to strengthen your core. There are all sorts of ways you can do this, from traditional core training splits at the gym to yoga. Whatever is it, be sure that you work your abdominals fully so that they can hold you steady and secure as you work.
Take Regular Breaks From Work
The problem with the health of modern people isn’t that they sit too much – it’s that they sit too long. After a while, the body starts to compress and tissues experience damage. Over time, they can even necrose, which means that they die off and remain dead while still a part of the body.
To prevent this, just take regular walks. When you get up out of your seats and move, it helps to reset common problem areas, such as the lower back, hips, and buttocks. The blood starts flowing again, blood vessels open back up, and all parts of the body can receive the nutrients they need.
Adjust Your Desk Position
The biggest cause of back and neck pain during the pandemic is arguably desk position. Most employers take pains to ensure that their workers can work comfortably for many hours at a time. But when it comes to working from home, we aren’t always so diligent. We think any old chair or desk will do. Some of us are even working in bed.
The solution here is to follow proper ergonomics and adjust your setup accordingly. There are numerous helpful guides out there, all describing the ideal workstation position for optimal productivity. Make sure that your elbows are in line with your hands on your keyboard, not above them. And adjust your head height so that you’re not looking up or down at your screen, but straightforward instead.
Do Stretching Exercises After Work
Sitting down all day can be problematic for your overall health. It actually changes the length of your muscles over time, shortening them, causing you to stiffen up.
Standing desks and ergonomic chairs help prevent this process from playing out to a degree, but nothing compares to stretching exercises. Many office workers, for instance, now follow yoga YouTube videos that get them to move their bodies in unfamiliar ways.
If you just want something a little more basic, you can try something called the McGill Three. It’s just three exercises that help to lengthen and shape the spine, giving it more flexibility.
Here are the three exercises for you to try at home:
- Side bridge: The side bridge is one of the most powerful ways to build your side abdominals. Start by lying on your side with your forearm out in front of you and legs bent at 90 degrees. Then lift your hips off the ground, creating some space underneath. Hold for as long as you need and then do the other side.
- Curl-up: The curl-up is a classic yoga move and something that has also made its way into spinal health. You start by lying on your back with one foot stretched out and then other bent up so that your foot is flat on the floor. Then lift your head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor using your abdominal muscles before relaxing. Repeat as many times as you like before switching the legs.
- Bird-dog: The final move is bird-dog. Start with your hands flat on the floor and then raise your left leg and right arm until they’re parallel with the floor. Hold for around ten seconds, and then switch sides.
The purpose of these exercises is to move the spine through favorable positions. Even if you sit all day long, you can use these moves to keep it supple, healthy, and well-supplied with blood.
Cut The Stress Out Of Your Life
Living with stress not only affects your mind but also your body too. Eventually, it causes you to clam up, creating excessive tension on your joints and ligaments, especially around the hips and back.
You can, however, deal with this problem at the source by cutting the stress out of your life. That might sound challenging, but, remember, how you feel about your daily life is very much a personal choice. You’re free to use your mind in whatever way you like.
Perhaps the best way to reduce stress is to use either yoga or meditation, depending on the nature of your personality. Some people find that sitting quietly and watching their thoughts pass idly by works wonders. Others, by contrast, prefer to focus on the body, breathing through difficult poses to achieve a state of final bliss.
Dealing with chronic back pain isn’t always easy, but it is essential. That’s because it has the ability to profoundly affect your quality of life. There’s nothing worse than going to work every day, knowing that it is going to cause you physical pain.
The good news is that preventing and reversing back pain is possible. By adopting small lifestyle changes, you can make a big difference to your overall back health. Ultimately, you can be more productive at work and avoid the need to use high-strength painkillers, many of which have undesirable side effects.
The pandemic is making life challenging for people living with back pain. But it is also an opportunity to improve your routine and, hopefully, cut it out of your life in the future.