How to reduce and eliminate back and shoulder pain from working long hours from your temporary home office

Perhaps you have worked from home from time to time. But the need to work from home due to Coronavirus precipitated lockdown, maybe the first time you have found yourself working at home for an extended period of time. If this is the case there is a strong possibility that you are struggling with back and shoulder pain. I've written this article as a life long sufferer of lower back pain (sciatica is a constant foe of mine) and shoulder issues. Hopefully the remedies I talk about in this article will be able to help you or a member of your staff. As with all these things, if you are really struggling with back or shoulder pain get proper advice from a medical expert.

Are you struggling with lower back pain from sitting too much?

Maybe your lower back pain from sitting too much, is a direct result of the back-to-back conference or client calls you are stilling finding yourself on? Or maybe your ‘makeshift’ kitchen table or bedroom workstation is contributing to the problem. Maybe you are finding that the little bits of exercise you used to do without thinking about it, such as walking around the office to talk to your team or going out for a walk at lunch time did make a difference? It is all too easy when you start working at home to not carry through on the good intentions you had for yourself such as exercising twice a day, taking decent amounts of breaks, eating healthily…

Now that so many people have had to adapt to working from home, if my calls with members is anything to go by, physios and masseurs will be in lots of demand when lockdown ends. Therefore, in this article, I wanted to give you the low down on what happens to our bodies when we sit for long periods of time and how you can mitigate the impact.

Why do we get lower back pain from sitting too much?

You may be wondering why we often get lower back pain from sitting too much? At a very high level our bodies were not designed for sitting for long periods of time. (But you probably knew that!) After sitting for long periods of time the following things happen to our bodies:

  1. Your hip flexors and hamstrings tighten up which causes your glutes to lengthen to compensate
  2. When your hip flexors are tight it makes it harder for your pelvis to rotate and one of the reasons we get lower back pain from sitting too much
  3. If your workstation is not set up for good posture, such as having to work from a kitchen table, you can often slouch, round your shoulders and curl your neck down. This can lead to problems with our shoulders and upper backs. (After all, you can get pains in other places not just lower back pain from sitting too much.)

How to remedy the lower back pain (and other areas from sitting for too long periods of time)

Firstly, regardless of how sophisticated your solution for avoiding lower back pain from sitting too much, there is a very simple solution. Reduce the amount of time you are sitting down or sitting in a poor position. Seriously, consider:

  • Taking some of your calls or video calls standing up
  • Timetabling in some walking breaks between calls
  • Every hour you are at your desk make a point of standing up, stretching and walking around and not sitting down for 5 – 10 minutes.
  • Putting a timer onto your phone or computer to remind to you stand up and stretch.
  • Using headphones with your phone and do NOT spend long periods of time with your phone tucked under your ear or holding your phone up to your ear
  • Starting and maintaining a daily stretching routine.  (There are plenty around on YouTube, or sign up for virtual pilates and yoga classes. Once again, there are lots of free routines on YouTube. Many gyms and yoga/pilates studios are now offering virtual classes.)
  • Do NOT yield to the easy temptation of sitting on the sofa with a laptop balanced on your lap. (It is one of the worse things you can do to your back and shoulders)

Set up your workstation as best you can

If you didn't do this when lockdown started, do consider making a trip to your office to bring home as much of your normal workstation back to your home. If this is just not possible you should aim for the following for your workstation:

  • your eye level is towards the top of your monitor screen,
  • your elbows are at 90 degrees and your arms are in line with the keyboard
  • your feet are flat against the floor (or a foot rest)
  • Your lumbar spine is supported
  • Try and avoid the temptation of using your laptop on your lap on the sofa. This is asking for trouble for your lower back, and a quick way to start shelling out tons of money on a physio. (I know from bitter experience as well)

To avoid shelling out loads of money on a standing desk, here are some ways of adjusting your temporary desk so it is set up very inexpensively:

  • lumbar support cushion can work nicely or if you have it a small flat cushion which can be folded over to support your lumbar spine
  • A cardboard box or set of books is a very cheap way to raise up your screen to the right height
  • Use a box to rest your feet on so you can have your feet flat on the floor
  • A ‘wrist rest’ for your mouse and keyboard is a cheap way of supporting your wrists and avoiding RSI in your hands and arms

What exercises can I do to help myself?

Here are some great exercises and workouts add into your daily routine to counteract the impact of all that sitting down from the “Bob and Brad” YouTube channel. Bob and Brad bill themselves as YouTube’s most famous physical therapists.

PS Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert, and none of the advice given here is a substitute for getting expert medical advice.

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