Millions of people have been working from home for weeks because of the covid-19 pandemic, which means they may be adopting postures that are harmful to the body. Chances are that at home they have inappropriate work environments and/or furniture (chairs, tables) for these practices, which may cause more injury or physical pain than their office furniture.

One of these ailments is back pain. This ailment is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work and one of the leading causes of disability in the world.

Now, with quarantines in effect, the situation seems to be getting worse.

Many of my patients who have chronic back pain feel more pain as a result of working at home. Even those whose backs don’t normally bother them talk about feeling stiff and sore

This may be due to multiple factors, but the obvious factor is the change in the level and type of activity we do.

“Someone who works sitting in an office usually walks to the bus stop or to the parking lot, gets up from their desk to get coffee, deliver a document or just talk to a colleague. At home, on the other hand, they don’t take these small, but important breaks from sitting,” notes him.

And the more time we spend sitting at the office, at home, or in a car, the greater the probability of suffering from back pain, warn specialists.

Here is some advice from the expert and other experts on how to optimize the work area in your home and on some activities you can do to avoid discomfort in your body.

1. Walking

The human body is evolved to lead an active life, not to sit for hours, so our skeleton needs movement to stay healthy.

So, contrary to what many believe, one of the best ways to deal with back pain is to keep the body moving. In fact, bed rest is not recommended to alleviate this ailment, explains the Mayo Clinic.

Our body can have the most perfect posture for eight hours, but you can still end up with some kind of pain or injury.

So I think it’s important not to overthink things: stand up and move. Our body needs movement.

If possible, walk. Walk outside your home, not just to the kitchen or bathroom. Walk before and after your normal work hours. Walk on your break.

Walking is a very good way to give small, rhythmic movements to the tissues of the spine and keep it healthy.

2. Stretch and exercise

The doctors at The Spine & Rehab Group suggest getting out of your chair and stretching every hour (for four to five minutes). You can set an alarm so you don’t forget to do it. You can also do simple exercises to keep your spine from stiffening.

Spending so much time sitting in chairs with backs makes us use our back muscles a hell of a lot less and weaken them. That has affected our posture and [increases] our chances of having back pain

Given this situation, the Doctor recommends a simple exercise routine to strengthen the back:

  • Lie on your back, bend your legs and use your hands to bring your bent knees to your chest.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, and move your knees bent and together to each side for 10 seconds.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor and lift your hips to form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  • Lean on your hands and knees and slowly arch your back up, like a cat, and down.
  • While seated, cross one leg over the other and rotate the trunk to the side of the leg you moved. Alternate both legs.
  • Also sitting, pull your shoulders back for a few seconds, as if you were trying to bring your shoulder blades together.

Practicing yoga or pilates are also good options to develop muscle strength and flexibility in the trunk. But keep in mind that if you have back problems, you should seek medical clearance to exercise. Also, be sure to maintain a healthy weight as being overweight puts a strain on your back muscles.

3. Working while standing

It is important to “have variability” of postures while working at home. You can arrange a place where you work standing up (with the computer at an appropriate height) so that you can spend half the time sitting and half the time standing.  But when you are standing, be careful not to fall into habits like putting all your weight on one of your arms.

About going to the doctor

Sometimes back pain can be due to more serious problems than just poor posture. The experts recommend seeing a doctor if, in addition to spinal discomfort, you have:

  • bowel or bladder problems.
  • fever
  • if you have fallen or suffered any other injury
  • severe pain
  • sudden, severe pain
  • pain that spreads down your legs
  • weakness or numbness in the legs
  • unexplained weight loss

4. Elevate the computer if you’re sitting

When you work sitting down, your head, shoulders, and neck are not in the most ideal position. So maybe you can use some books to elevate the laptop or computer a bit, so the screen is aligned with your eyesight. 

If you work at a computer, ideally you should have an external keyboard or mouse that allows you to change the location of the screen easily. In general, make sure your home workstation is as close as possible to your normal workstation or at least ergonomically appropriate.  So avoid working from the couch or kitchen table. 

5. Use lumbar or lower back supports.

If you sit in a chair with a backrest, you can roll up a small towel and place it on the chair at the level of your lower back. The towel will force your lower back to stay in a good position (maintain normal curvature) and keep you from sitting on your tailbone. 

6. Physical therapy

If the pain doesn’t go away after doing all these things, you may need to see a physical therapist.

Physical therapists can use a variety of treatments with heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and muscle relaxation techniques, this health center says.

But it is always advisable to have your doctor approve these additional treatments if the pain does not subside, and to be aware of the benefits and risks. If because of the pandemic you can’t go to an office in person, you can seek out virtual physical therapy sessions, or tutorials on exercises to relieve back pain, but always make sure you have your doctor’s approval.