How Can I Prevent Back Pain While Working From Home?
Most office-based workers have likely experienced back or shoulder pain while working at their desks. However, if you’ve started working from home due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, you may actually have noticed this pain becoming worse, or more prominent than usual. Why is this? And how can I prevent back pain while working from home? Is there anything we can do to stop it?
Why do I experience more pain when working from home?
Whilst you’ve more than likely experienced pain in your neck, back or shoulders due to work, there’s a chance this may have gotten worse since working from home.
We experience work-related pains in the neck, back and shoulders due to a number of different factors.
These include the seat we are sitting in, the way we are sitting, the distance we sit from our computers and the way that our screens are angled, among other things.
However, when working at the office, these factors aren’t quite as much of an issue, as whoever was in charge of your office set-up likely took these things into account when designing it. You most likely sit in a dedicated computer chair, in front of a desktop computer, at an actual desk.
The issue when working from home is that many of us don’t have access to a set-up like this, and are instead sat in dining chairs, working at tables, hunched over our laptops. After a while, this will begin to affect us, and will make these pains more prevalent and serious than they were before.
The best thing to do, of course, is to take some measures to prevent this before it starts.
A great video from the Manipal Hospital illustrate the tips we have outlined below:
Tip #1: Choose your workspace wisely.
Whilst using a laptop for recreational purposes, you may be sat on the couch, or in bed, hunched over your screen – perhaps with your legs crossed, or folded underneath you. Whilst sitting like this for an hour or two at a time, every so often, isn’t likely to do too much damage.
But sitting this way for hours on end, several days a week, is likely to cause pain in the back and neck. For that reason, deciding to sit like this whilst working from home could have negative effects long after you return to the office, post-lockdown.
That’s why it’s important to set up a home working office space, which takes your posture and working position into consideration, as this will prevent a lot of discomfort or pain down the line.
If there’s a desk or similar traditional work space in your home, then don’t be tempted to waive it in favour of working on the couch. Whilst this may feel more comfortable in the short term, it isn’t the most sustainable way to work, and could lean to a worsening in back, neck and shoulder pain in the long run.
The reason for this is that, whilst sat on the couch or in our beds, we are often sat either hunched over, or backwards, with our spines curved. This curvature in the spine is what causes the pain, and can even stay like this if these mistakes are made often enough, for hours at a time – it may even lead to a permanent and visible spine curvature, giving the appearance of a hunch in the upper back.
If you don’t have access to a desk, then another solid work surface, such as a dining table or kitchen counter, will suffice.
Your seat should always be positioned in a place that leaves you a comfortable distance away from your computer keyboard, allowing you to use it without raising your shoulders up towards your ears.
The seat that you sit in whilst working is the next important decision to make, as this determines the posture we hold whilst working. Again, if you have a dedicated computer chair, then use this. If you don’t, use a seat which is comfortable, supports your back, and allows you to sit with your computer screen at eye level.
Having your computer at eye level is especially important, as it prevents us from having to lean over our keyboards, or lean in to see our screen properly. If the surface and seat you have chosen to use do leave you sitting without your back straight, or leaning over your workstation, there’s a few things that you can do to troubleshoot this.
Tip #2: Adapting your workspace.
If you are using a laptop at a work surface which leaves you looking down at your screen from above, then have a look around your home for items that you could place underneath your laptop to raise the height of the screen whilst you work.
These might be shoe boxes, board games, large books… anything which can provide a stable surface for your computer as you type.
If your seat doesn’t allow you to sit with your back forming a natural S-shape, and with your head and neck in line with your torso, then add items such as cushions or rolled-up towels that will allow you to sit more comfortably.
Putting something underneath your work surface to rest your feet on – again, such as a cushion or rolled-up towel – will also help you to sit with a more comfortable posture.
Whilst these things don’t necessarily look as aesthetically pleasing within your workspace, they’re surprisingly effective at improving your posture and comfort whilst working.
Tip #3: Allow yourself to move around.
Be sure to take a couple of minutes each hour to get out of your seat and walk around. Stretch out, too. Bend over to touch your toes with straight legs, extend your arms, roll your neck and shoulders, stretch your legs out.
Regularly relieving any tension that may have built up in your muscles and joints can be effective as reducing back, neck and shoulder pain.
Consider adding exercise into your daily routine which can be beneficial in combatting these pains, too. Yoga is particularly effective, as it promotes better posture and allows you to stretch more effectively.
Yoga mentor Adriene Mishler has numerous videos available on her YouTube channel ‘Yoga with Adriene’ that could be incredibly helpful for anyone working from home, including videos for helping relieve upper back pain, lower back pain, shoulder and neck pain, and even a yoga routine you can do in your lunch break.
Moving around is important, as if you do this often enough, then it will stop your joints and muscles from locking into place while you work, and may prevent the lasting effects of bad working posture to a certain extent, as you are refreshing your position every so often.
Tip #4: Take note of your posture outside of your working hours.
If you notice you are regularly hunched over your phone, walking with your shoulders bent forward or sitting with your shoulders raised, these things could also be causing your issues with back, neck and shoulder pain, and worsening the pain you feel whilst working.
Try to avoid sitting with bad posture in your leisure time, as we are often sat this way for hours at a time, usually without standing or walking around for more than a couple of minutes at a time. This could initially cause, and worsen, our work-related back pain.
Tip #5: Investing in your office space.
If you work from home as standard, rather than as a temporary measure during the pandemic, and are worried about developing or worsening pain in your back, neck and shoulders, then it may be worth investing in your home office set up.
Ikea has a range of different office furniture available, at reasonable prices. A quick browse of their office furniture section shows results for good quality desks beginning from just £40/$51, and suitable office chairs with armrests starting from £70/$89.
It’s also worth investing in a footrest – Amazon include a good-quality footrest in their Basics range for just £19/$24.
Why is it important to take care of our posture while working from home?
Bad posture whilst working can be incredibly detrimental in the long term. It can cause pain in the muscles and joints in various areas of the body, with the lower back, shoulders and neck being the worst affected.
A slightly less serious, but equally undesirable, side effect which you may experience from slouching over your computer is what has become known as ‘text neck’ – the name for the ‘double chin’ you develop by looking straight down at your phone or computer for too long, too often.
More seriously, it can also cause a curvature of the spine, which can lead to an array of issues that will cause pain and discomfort in later life. Even digestive problems can be caused by slouching your shoulders over your abdomen!
All in all, nearly every area of your body will benefit from putting a little more thought into your home office set-up, and ensuring that it’s effective, yet comfortable.
Bad posture whilst doing anything can, of course, affect us in the long run – poor posture whilst watching television, exercising, sleeping, etc. are just a few of the things that can lead to pain in our back, neck and shoulders.
However, it’s of utmost importance that we prevent this while working, as working takes up so much of our time, and is an activity which involves far less movement, especially in an office-based role.
Is there anything I can do to fix back pain that I am already suffering with?
It is possible to reverse back pain that you are already suffering with, using a few different methods.
Firstly, you’d be surprised to know that resting up and wearing a back brace can actually be detrimental in some ways. Many of the more effective methods of improving back pain involve being a little more proactive.
As we’ve mentioned already, yoga can be a helpful tool when attempting to promote better posture, but gentle exercise actually helps reduce back pain, too. Continuing to keep moving is actually much more beneficial than resting in terms of reducing minor or nagging back pain.
However, stay away from any strenuous activities or exercises, such as running, cardio, etc., until you begin to feel the pain improving, as these may make it worse if you attempt them too early.
Keep an eye on the way that you sleep, too! If we have to improve our posture whilst working, due to the amount of time that we spend at our desks, then it’s surely just as important to maintain good posture whilst we sleep, too.
It’s a good idea to use pillows to provide support to certain parts of your body whilst sleeping if you believe that this may benefit you. For instance, if you sleep on your back, it may benefit you to put pillows under your knees, whereas if you sleep on your side, you should rest a pillow in between your knees to keep your spine aligned properly. If you sleep on your stomach, then keep in mind that this can put unnecessary stress on your back, as it causes your head and neck to twist.
Think about what your sleeping environment is, too. Is your mattress comfortable? Are your pillows comfortable, and the right thickness/softness to support your neck and head?
If not, then you don’t immediately need to worry about replacing them all right away – a cheaper alternative could be to invest in a memory foam mattress topper and memory foam pillows, as these have been known to improve the quality of people’s sleep, but also the severity of neck, back and shoulder pain, too.
Do I need to see a specialist about my back pain?
If you have tried to improve your posture, and have taken steps to improve pain that you were already feeling, but your pain persists, then it may benefit you to seek out a specialist, who can advise you on the best way to treat your issues.
Of course, this is difficult in the current climate amidst the global pandemic, so for the time being, it may be best to self-medicate with cold and heat packs.
We hope this information will be helpful for you and prevent back pain while working from home.