Back to back

  • 07th Jul 20
Back to back

The pandemic has caused a huge upsurge of people working from home, many from makeshift desks, hastily put together offices or even lounging in bed. Over the months, you may have noticed sore shoulders or an aching lower back, this is the price we pay for working on soft furnishings with a laptop balancing on our chest. So, it is probably time we create better habits and spend some time on exercises to protect from pain.

Get moving
It is not just where we work that causes problems, it’s how long we stay in one position. Have you noticed that when you are still for a prolonged period of time, we can feel tight when we start to move. That is because remaining static for long periods causes our brains to switch off muscles we are not using such as our glutes and hip flexors. Sitting in one position can ignite aches in the lower back because you become more prone to muscular imbalances and weakness. The body is pulled into unnatural positions as we hunch over our screens. You don’t have to do high-intensity workouts but you do need to move, whether that is making a cup of tea, going for a stroll around the block or doing an online yoga stretch. Just make sure you are moving every hour or so.

Home office equipment
Most of us don’t have the luxury of a huge office set up at home with an ergonomically-friendly desk, chair and computer. Research from Bupa UK has found that 18-34-year-olds are the least likely age group to have a desk and chair with a backrest so it is no surprise that this age group are reporting the highest level of neck, hip, knee and wrist pain. If you are working from a laptop, resist the temptation to work from a bed or on the floor. Try and find a chair that encourages you to sit upright, which you may be able to achieve by the use of cushions. The most important thing to consider is achieving a level of comfort. Where possible, raise your screen to eye level to prevent slouching, upper back pain and headaches. The majority of us will now be working from a laptop but with the average head weighing a whopping 4.5kg, is it any wonder that we get neck strain. If you are using a laptop for a prolonged period of time, it is important to use a separate mouse and ideally a keyboard too. You can then elevate your laptop with books to eye level to stop your head drooping.

Work it out
Most of us have lost our commute which may have involved walking, even for a short distance. Even in an office environment, we are probably more active than we are at home and over time, your body will miss this regular movement. Whether you go for a morning, lunchtime or evening jog or bike ride or do one of the many online workouts, exercise is crucial for physical and mental wellbeing. There are also lots of easily accessible YouTube videos specifically to address back and neck pain. Try a neck pain relief video with Caroline Jordan, yoga for lower back pain with Yoga with Adriene or yoga for lower back pain with the Boys of Yoga.

Relieve back pain
Before heading to the doctor’s there are some things you can do to relieve back pain yourself. Bed rest will actually do more harm than good, making your muscles weaker, tighter and more painful. Avoid exercise that makes the pain worse but it is important to keep moving. When resting on your side, use a pillow between your knees or lie on your back with your hips and knees bent. Ice can help to lessen your pain while heat can loosen tight muscles. Apply for 15 minutes at a time, alternating between hot and cold. Try a hot water bottle, heating pad or warm bath and ice with an ice pack or frozen bag of vegetables but use a thin barrier such as a towel to prevent any damage to the skin.  Over the counter medicine can also help to control the pain and lessen it enough for you to be active. Medicine such as ibuprofen can also help to reduce any inflammation.

Stretch and hold
There are many stretches that have been designed to specifically target the back and neck and will help to alleviate pain. Regular stretching will help to reduce tension in the muscles supporting the spine, which can worsen discomfort. It will also improve a range of motion and overall mobility and should be incorporated into a daily exercise regime before, during and after feeling any back or neck aches. Do not force the body into difficult or painful positions while stretching. Move slowly and avoid bouncing which can cause muscle strain. Try to hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat the same stretch between two and five times. Stretch one side of the body at a time but always repeat on the other side to build up flexibility evenly. There are plenty of NHS-recommended YouTube videos for back and neck pain to get you started.

A good night’s sleep
It’s no surprise that people with chronic back pain often don’t get enough quality sleep. This in turn can worsen inflammation and pain. A high-quality mattress can make all the difference and if it is more than seven years old, there’s a chance that it is not giving you the support you need. The cause of neck and shoulder pain can actually be the pillow rather than the mattress. A good pillow will hold your head in much the same way as if you were standing up so it is in the same alignment to your shoulders and spine. Pillows should ideally be replaced every two or three years or when you notice that they have become lumpy, discoloured or misshapen.

Top tips for healthier backs

  • Use correct lifting techniques and bend from your knees
  • Avoid being overweight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Stay active
  • Carry shopping in more than one bag to spread weight
  • Take regular breaks when driving
  • Read and keep devices at chest or eye level
  • Walk at a brisk pace
  • Keep the feet on the floor when sitting


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