For many non-essential workers, the first anniversary of the new coronavirus pandemic next week will also mark about a year of working from home – and coping with the subsequent physical aches.
Eric Robertson, a physiotherapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association, told CNBC Make It that the pandemic has caused an increase in common musculoskeletal back and neck pain, not only due to our desk settings, but also There are multiple reasons.
Robertson said that first, people missed the physical exercise they usually get from commuting or daily activities. “Unless people deliberately change their overall activity level and keep exercising, everyone will exercise a little less than before,” he said. Studies have shown that a sharp decrease in activity can lead to increased musculoskeletal pain, such as neck, shoulder, and waist pain.
Robertston said that psychological stress is usually related to back and neck pain. “Things such as depression and anxiety and fear of work can be transformed into very strong predictors of back pain,” he said. Due to the pandemic, most people have been living with higher levels of constant stress and anxiety.
Of course, our creative, less ergonomic WFH desk is part of the cause of muscle soreness. Although you may be able to tolerate working on the sofa or sitting on an uncomfortable kitchen chair for a day, these habits can have a negative impact on your body and health in the long run.
If you are working remotely during a pandemic, here are ways to relieve back and neck pain:
If your back is stiff and painful, it sounds counterintuitive, but “by far, when you have back pain, the most important thing is to continue your daily activities and exercise more,” Robertson said. You may worry that exercise will only increase pain, but this is not the case. Studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce the frequency of recurrent back pain attacks by nearly half.
Exercising the cardiovascular system can reduce stiffness and increase blood flow, which is good for your overall health and back. “The frequent small walks are amazing,” Robertson said. Studies have shown that walking briskly every day can reduce the risk of neck pain by 14%. When you find back pain, get into the habit of walking 100 yards down the street, use stairs instead of elevators or answer the phone while walking.
Stretch and strengthen these muscles
Robertson said that if you sit all day, some muscles will become weak and tight, such as your hip flexors and hamstrings, as well as the muscles that stabilize your neck. Using foam rollers or small rubber balls on the hips and buttocks can relieve the tightness of the back. (This recent research paper includes a chart of self-massage techniques and stretching for your back. Or this YouTube video demonstrates how to use a foam roller for your lower back.)
Strengthening your abdominal and back muscles can also help your back. Studies have shown that doing three exercises, named “McGill Triathlon” after the researcher who developed them, can relieve low back pain. According to the American Sports Council, how this is done:
Curled up: Begin to lie on your back, with one leg bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands under your lower back. Lift the head, neck, and shoulders off the ground and hold for 10 seconds. Swap legs and repeat on the other side.
Side bridge: Lying on your side with your forearms on the floor and your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Lift your hips so that your body forms a diagonal line from the top of your head to your knees. Hold for 10 seconds; repeat on the other side.
Bird-dog: Begin with your limbs on the ground, with your hands flat on the floor under your shoulders. At the same time, raise your right arm and raise your left leg so that it is parallel to the floor. Hold for 10 seconds; repeat on the opposite side.
Other studies have shown that exercises that focus on abdominal strength, such as Pilates, can prove beneficial for people with back pain.
Robertson said that whether you have a dedicated home office or make do with it at home, it is important to change your position and posture frequently. For example, you can start the day by sitting at the dining table and then transition to standing while answering a video call. If you don’t have a standing desk, be creative; Robertson said that he puts the laptop on the blender so that he can keep his sight level with the computer during the meeting.
Focus on stress reduction