Living through COVID-19 has certainly brought on a lot of changes. One of these is the rise of the remote worker. Even a year and a half into the pandemic, many workers have continued working from home, even as restrictions on businesses ease. The benefits of working from home are many: lack of commute, more time with family, less money spent on gas, an office wardrobe and lunches out. But working from home is new to many people and poses a new challenge of converting the living room, dining room or kitchen table into a substitute workspace.
Everyday activities such as the way you sit or the way you lift something can cause back pain if you are not careful. Working for extended periods at your kitchen counter or sitting at your dining table with the wrong chair is not great for your body and overall health. You may be suddenly experiencing back pain at home even when you had no back issues at the office. This might be because professional workspaces are generally designed to be at least somewhat ergonomic. Unless you have invested some thought and money into the enterprise, you are probably just using whatever you have around the house, which is likely not ideal.
Studies have shown that sitting is one of the worst positions for the discs in the low back. When sitting, there is increased pressure placed on the discs, and this can lead to the discs herniating. A herniated disc occurs when a disc is damaged and some of the soft, inner portion leaks out of the hard, outer portion.
Seeking medical advice in order to make sure that you are moving in ways that promote healing rather than aggravating symptoms is key. In the meantime, there are methods to manage your injury and relieve your pain.
Working from Home Can Cause Back Pain
You probably thought that working while lounging in your bed or slouching on your sofa would be the epitome of comfort, but you likely reach quitting time every day with sore back, neck or shoulders muscles.
Working on your laptop for hours daily can lead to back and neck pain. To make matters worse, many people are working at the kitchen counter or hunched over a coffee table and not sitting at a table or desk with a proper work chair. The best way to reduce or even avoid back or neck pain is to make a few changes to your workstation.
Setting Up Your Ergonomic Home Workspace
Ergonomics is the science of understanding the interaction of human to the elements in the workplace. Ergonomic setup focus on improving how people work in their environment is based on the five principles: safety, comfort, ease of use, performance, and aesthetics.
When you get into a car for the first time, you move the mirrors, seat and headrest to positions that allow you to see better, reach the pedals, and sit comfortably. Similarly, there are a few ergonomic adjustments you can make to your workstation to help you avoid injury and aches while improving productivity as you work from home.
A comfortable workspace will greatly increase your productivity and can physically help you feel your best. To work comfortably for many hours at a time while maintaining good posture, invest in a few practical office appliances that will serve to support your physical well-being. Proper office ergonomics will include the correct chair height, a footrest and a good desk posture that can help your muscles and joints stay comfortable.
- Check Your Posture
Prolonged sitting and slouching forward may contribute to back pain. The proper way of sitting would be erect. The advantages of sitting up straight, keeping the joints and bones aligned, supporting the muscles and ligaments while preventing muscle fatigue. In addition, the spine is not fixed in abnormal positions. Positioning yourself properly in your chair will help. Check your posture, making sure your ears are over your shoulders instead of in front of them; your elbows are by your sides, with your wrists resting comfortably. Remember to sit all the way back in your chair with back support and use a small lumbar pillow or rolled towel if necessary to take full advantage of the lumbar support that would count in your favor. The knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle with feet flat on the floor or assisted by a footrest.
- Set Your Screen Height
The height of your computer should not be set too high or too low. Your eyes should be lined up 3 inches below the top of your screen if you are using a desktop monitor, and if you are using a laptop, tilt the screen back to 120 degrees, slightly off vertical so you do not have to crane your neck up or down. It should also be directly in front of you so you’re not tilting or turning your head. For most users, your screen should not be more than an arm’s length away, with your keyboard and screen directly in front of you and the mouse to the side.
- Move More
You might watch your step count plummet when you work from home. Even if you are driving or taking mass transit to the office, you still have to move from your house to your vehicle to your office. Change position every 30 to 45 minutes, getting up to move around, even if it’s just walking around the room. Work in different positions throughout the day, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting. Set an automatic reminder on your phone. Engaging regularly in low-impact aerobic activity provides your tissues with essential blood flow and may help minimize back pain.
- Breathe Mindfully
Breathing properly leads to relaxation of the body and the muscles in the mid and lower back. When a person breathes consciously, it gets the nervous system to react and the breathing exercises can be a way to target lower back pains. The advantage of these exercises is that no special equipment is needed and it can be done anywhere and anytime. All you need to do is to concentrate on your breathing. Inhale and try bringing your navel towards your spine and then exhale. This breathing exercise will engage your core muscles and it will support your upper body.
- Do Exercises Specifically Designed for Your Back
Strengthening your back muscles can help prevent these types of injuries and ensure that your entire body works smoothly, both during daily movements and during exercise. Choose three to five of exercises to create your own back workout, which you can do twice weekly (or more) to reach your goals.
- Manage Your Stress
Spend some time in nature each day, get enough sleep, and make time for family and friends. Relaxation practices to try include mindfulness exercises, yoga, deep breathing, and meditation.
Relieve Your Pain
- Apply Heat or Ice
Topical application of ice or heat therapy can bring a surprising level of pain relief for most types of lower back pain—but each treatment is unique and works better in specific situations. When your back pain is acute (less than a 4-week duration) and/or occurs due to a direct injury, use cold therapy first. Lowering the body temperature will help constrict the blood vessels, reduce swelling, decrease inflammation, and cause a numbing effect.
Once the inflammation has subsided, use heat therapy. When you apply heat, it improves the flexibility of soft tissues, movement of muscles, and overall functioning of the back. The local warmth stimulates blood circulation in your lower back, which in turn brings healing nutrients to the injured tissues.
You may feel like resting, but moving is good for your back. Exercises for lower back pain can strengthen back, stomach, and leg muscles. They help support your spine, relieving back pain. Always ask your health care professional before doing any exercise for back pain. Depending on the cause and intensity of your pain, some exercises may not be recommended and can be harmful. If performing a particular exercise perpetuates your lower back or leg pain, stop this movement immediately. Familiarize yourself with simple back strengthening exercises and ease into a gentle routine. By doing a variety of strength and flexibility exercises, your back muscles will better adjust to movement.
- Attend Physical Therapy
Remember, low back pain can be a serious problem and it is highly recommended to consult a physician, physical therapist or another qualified healthcare provider if low back symptoms are present and are significantly limiting function and mobility. After evaluating your back injury or condition, your physician may recommend seeing a physical therapist or researching physical therapy exercises on your own. These exercises are specifically prescribed to patients for regaining regular motion of an injury area.
- Ask About Medications
Depending on the type of back pain you have, your doctor might recommend the following:
- Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), may help relieve back pain. Take these medications only as directed by your doctor. Overuse can cause serious side effects. If OTC pain relievers don’t relieve your pain, your doctor might suggest prescription NSAIDs.
- Muscle Relaxants. If mild to moderate back pain doesn’t improve with OTC pain relievers, your doctor might also prescribe a muscle relaxant. Muscle relaxants can make you dizzy and sleepy.
- Topical Pain Relievers. These products deliver pain relieving substances through your skin via creams, salves, ointments or patches.
- Narcotics. Drugs containing opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, may be used for a short time with close supervision by your doctor. Opioids don’t work well for chronic pain, so your prescription will usually provide less than a week’s worth of pills.
- Antidepressants. Some types of antidepressants — particularly duloxetine (Cymbalta) and tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline — have been shown to relieve chronic back pain independent of their effect on depression.
- Ask About Injections
When back pain will not go away, your doctor will consider all the treatments that could help you, from exercise and physical therapy to medication. Part of that may include injections to ease your back pain and inflammation. These shots usually consist of a steroid and a numbing medicine. Depending on the type and duration of pain that you are having, you may be a candidate for an epidural steroid injection, where anti-inflammatory medication is delivered to the site of a damaged disc using x-ray guidance. The procedure typically takes less than 5 minutes and there is very little downtime afterwards. Significant relief can be seen within a few days.
- Do Not Panic
Anxiety has been shown to worsen pain levels, so remember that most causes of back pain are benign and improve without the need for surgery.
Call Ventura Orthopedics Today!
Remember to check in with your body. If you are experiencing pain in your shoulders, neck or back or if you feel numbness or tingling in your hands and arms, it may be time to consult a medical professional.
The experienced and dedicated orthopedic surgeons at Ventura Orthopedics are here for you. If you are concerned about problems that you are experiencing with your shoulders, neck or back, talk to the experts at Ventura Orthopedics today. Call us today at 800-698-1280 to schedule an appointment.