Expert advice for preventing back pain when working from home

Written by Dr Pallav Bhatia

Due to the Covid-19 epidemic, many people had to abruptly switch between company settings and work from their bedrooms. While some are lucky enough to have ergonomics Work at home space, others try to use the less than ideal configuration of beds, coffee tables, sofas and dining tables. If you only do this for short periods of time, you might not have to worry, but our weeks at home turn into months and years. If you are one of those people, you might notice new aches and pains that you didn’t feel in the office. Working longer hours, not having a supportive chair, and poor posture can all lead to back pain.

Back ache is caused by work-related stress as well as work-related physical factors. Prolonged sitting forces the natural “S” curve of your spine into a “C” curve, which puts more strain on your muscles, ligaments, discs and tissues.

It is important that the chair facilitates good posture – many chairs that are not ergonomically designed are tilted too much. You should have someone in the house take a photo of you sitting down so that you can check if your torso and head are in a straight line.

Prolonged sitting forces the natural “S” curve of your spine into a “C” curve, resulting in back pain. (Source: Getty Images)

The chair should support your lower back, so that the spine has its natural S shape. Otherwise, it is recommended to add a pillow or rolled up towel. The chair should also allow the knees and elbows to be at a right angle, to minimize muscle fatigue.

If the chair is too high and your feet are not supported, use a stable surface to support them. The desk should support the elbows – if it is too high and you cannot lift the chair, try sitting on a pillow or cushion.

Your keyboard and mouse should be about three to four inches from the edge of your desk, and the top of the screen should be about an arm’s length away at eye level to avoid leaning forward or backward.

Regular breaks are essential; be sure to get up every 30 to 45 minutes – if only briefly, to move, stretch, and change positions. This will shift the tension between the intervertebral discs, the spine shock absorbers.

Standing desks are perfect primarily for facilitating frequent postural changes without having to step away from the desk. You can use it to work while standing for 15 or 20 minutes every hour or two. It is recommended that you remain standing 20-30% of the working day. Standing for long periods of time also increases the risk of varicose veins.

Exercise has many benefits for physical health and is also a great way to build muscles and protect your back, especially with a solid core workout and bodyweight exercises. Bridges, seashells and bird dogs are some of the exercises that one should be doing.

Obesity is also one of the main causes of back pain. Weight control minimizes the extra strain on the spine and supports joints, muscles and tendons. Excess weight can also shift your body’s natural center of gravity and place extra weight on the spine. Ideally, staying within 10 pounds of your normal weight is good for your back.

Keep your body weight under control and avoid smoking.

Overall, good posture is the easiest way to prevent back pain. Exercise is also helpful, but turning your back on it can lead to serious health complications.

The author is a spine surgeon at Lokmanya hospitals, Pune

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