Working from home does not have to be a headache in the neck…or the back. More than 2,5 million people in the UK do not work because of health issues. Back and neck pain are on the rise. This could be due to the increasing number of people who work from home. Inactivity and a poorly designed workstation, which are often associated with it, can have a devastating effect on 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.
Let’s look at the activity levels first. Many people saw their activity levels drop dramatically as a result of the elimination of daily commutes during the pandemic. It’s true that many people took advantage of the ‘bonus’ time they had gained by not having to commute, but this was not the norm. Many people in society are sedentary and don’t do as much physical exercise as they should to maintain good health.
“Even those who had the best intentions found it difficult to maintain an exercise routine. The loss of a commute and the ability walk around the office has severely reduced their activity levels. Many people who work from home have little motivation to exercise. They must now make a conscious choice to exercise daily, which is not the case for many.
“It is enough to say that this lack of movement over time has a negative impact on people’s health. Movement is vital for back and cervical health, but desk-bound jobs are the worst offenders. De-conditioning can take some time to manifest its effects. This can lead to a loss of muscle strength and a deterioration in posture. Weaknesses can build up “under radar” and only become apparent when an injury occurs.
“When it comes down to the’setup’ of your home office, this can also be lacking. This can have a negative effect on neck and spine health. Before Covid, it was commonplace for companies to invest in their employees’ wellbeing through office ergonomics initiatives. Prioritizing the health of employees by setting up workstations optimally was a priority, but it came at a price.
“Unfortunately, many people who work from home won’t have been able stretch to the same expenses. The kitchen table and chair have replaced the desks of many people, resulting in a major downgrade in ergonomics. In addition to kyphosis due to excessive forward-bending and slipped discs, prolonged poor posture is becoming more common. Neck position and lower back are closely linked. It is therefore reasonable to assume that chronic back and neck problems will increase among ‘home workers.’
“While working at home can be harmful to the back and neck, there are a few easy steps that can be taken to correct what is for many a ‘new’ method of working.
“First, those who spend hours in front a computer should avoid using laptops and instead invest in a second screen or desktop computer. This will give you a fighting stance. This will make your setup more efficient and improve your posture. A good ergonomic chair that supports your back and/or a sit/stand desk can be an investment worth making. These two investments will allow many to continue working at home while improving their quality-of-life.
“Movement is important for back and neck health, as we have already mentioned. It’s important that we all move around every half hour. After a while, this will become a habit. Take a two-to-five minute walk, maintaining good posture, in the garden, the house or anywhere that helps to change biomechanics.
“Crucially I would recommend dedicating some time each week – perhaps three to five days a week – to formalised and constant exercise that involves strengthening muscles. You could do some resistance training using large compound movements. This could include a “hip hinge”, a “squat” and a “split squat”, or if you want to work on your lower body, a “lunge”.
“Finally at the end of the day, the towel stretch is the best thing to do to counteract the eight hours or so spent in front of a computer. This stretch supports the lower back’s natural curve and relieves pressure on the discs and muscle at the same. Roll a bath towel tightly. Lay on your back, knees bent. Engage your core, lift your bottom and lower back gently off the floor. Place the towel in your small of your lowerback. Lower yourself gently onto the bath towel. Feel the support. To dismount, engage the core and keep your spine straight. Roll to the side, but do not lift the bottom. Relax on the towel from 30 seconds to 2 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.
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