Working from home doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck…or back: More than 2.5 million people in the UK are currently not working because of health problems . Back and neck pain is one of the issues which is on the rise, possibly due to the increase in ‘working from home’. Unfortunately, the combination of inactivity and a poorly-designed workstation – which is often associated with this – is a sure-fire way of playing havoc with back and neck health.
Here, leading UK osteopath, Mr Michael Fatica, from Back in Shape – the online, rehabilitation program for back health (www.backinshapeprogram.com), discusses his key advice and top tips on how to keep back pain at bay and ensure that your work station is always fit for purpose.
“Top tips on how to of the Let’s first look at activity levels. These were dramatically reduced for many as a direct result of the removal of the daily commute during the pandemic. While it’s true that some people grasped the opportunity of using their new-found ‘bonus time’ that was previously spent commuting to do exercise, unfortunately this wasn’t the norm. A large proportion of society lead quite sedentary lives and do not participate in as much physical activity as is necessary to maintain good health.
“Even people who started off with the best of intentions have inevitably found it difficult to maintain a good exercise routine, so the loss of the commute and the ability to walk around an office has seriously dented their activity levels. Working from home has left many with little impetus to replace this exercise. Indeed, they now need to make a conscious decision to do some form of daily exercise, and for many this has not been the case.
“Suffice to say, over time this lack of activity greatly affects people’s health – movement is vital for back and neck health, yet it takes the full brunt of desk-bound roles. The consequences of this de-conditioning will often take a little time to show. It can lead to a reduction in muscle strength and cause the posture to deteriorate. Weaknesses build up “under the radar” only to be fully realised when an injury occurs and the ability to recover is a real struggle.
“When it comes to the home office ‘set-up’, this too can now be lacking and have a detrimental effect on neck and back health. Prior to Covid it was common for companies to invest in the wellbeing of their staff with office ergonomics initiatives. Setting up workstations in the optimal way for employee health was a priority and one which did come at a cost.
“Unfortunately many of those working from home will not have been able to stretch to the same expense. In fact, the kitchen chair and table have replaced many people’s desk space, leaving a fundamental downgrade in their workstation ergonomics. Prolonged poor posture – leading to slipped discs and sciatica, in addition to accentuated kyphosis as a result of excessive forward-bending, are now increasingly common. The neck position and the lower back are intricately linked, so it is reasonable to conclude that we will see an increase in chronic back and neck pain among ‘home workers’ in the near future.
“While working from home can be detrimental to back and neck health, there are some easy steps to remedy what for many is the ‘new’ way for working.
“Firstly, for those spending hours in front of a computer, avoid using a laptop and invest instead in a second monitor or desktop computer to give yourself a fighting stance. Doing so will give you a setup that is more efficient, better for your posture and overall working ergonomics. Likewise, investment in a good ergonomic, supportive chair and/or a sit/stand electric desk can also be a real worthwhile enterprise. These two investments in the home workstation will help ensure many can continue working from home, while also improving their quality of life.
“As mentioned earlier, movement is key for back and neck health. So, it’s vital that every half an hour, on average, we all get up and move around. After some time, this will develop into a natural habit. Get up and go for a short two-to-five-minute walk – maintaining good posture – in the garden, around the house, or anywhere which helps to change the biomechanics.
“Crucially, I would recommend devoting some time each week, perhaps three-to-five days a week, to formalised and consistent exercise that involves strengthening the muscles. For example, some form of resistance training with large compound movements. This could include a ‘hip hinge’, ‘squat’ and ‘split squat’ or ‘lunge’ for the lower body.
“Finally, at the end of a long day, the ‘towel stretch’ is by far the best activity to perform to help counteract eight or so hours sat at a computer screen. This stretch supports the natural curve to the lower back and takes pressure off the discs and muscles at the same time. Roll up a bath towel tightly. Lie on your back with knees bent, engage your core and gently lift the bottom and back off the floor and place the towel in the small of your lower back, lower yourself gently onto the towel and feel the support from the towel. Afterwards to dismount, engage your core and hold your spine steady, rolling to the side without twisting the spine – do not lift your bottom. Relax on the towel for 30 seconds to two minutes. https://backinshapeprogram.com/2023/03/what-is-the-single-best-stretch-for-back-pain-and-back-health-long-term/
For more detailed information about preventing and managing back pain, please visit www.backinshapeprogram.com, where detailed exercises and routines can also be found.