Over the past few months many of us have seen sudden and dramatic changes in our work environments, often requiring a transition from a purpose-built office to using our laptops on our laps or at our dining tables.
With back pain being the biggest cause of disability worldwide and costing healthcare systems billions every year, it is important that we take some simple steps during these challenging times to help keep our backs healthy. Around 33% of all patients seen at Shawe Physio attend due to back pain and receive a multifactorial approach to help patients by not only easing their immediate pain, but also improving the health of their backs in the long term.
Our expert clinicians have used their knowledge and experience along with current evidence to put together some key pointers to help you look after your back at home during this time.
YOUR BACK IS DESIGNED TO MOVE
First and foremost, to stay healthy, our backs need to MOVE often and need to move in multiple directions. Moving your back regularly is essential to help keep your back muscles strong and allow blood to circulate effectively. This does not need to be through spine specific strength exercises. In fact, whilst keeping good conditioning of your muscles in your back is important, overactivity of your ‘core’ muscles can actually contribute to back pain. General activities such as walking, swimming, strength training, pilates and yoga are fantastic ways to help keep your spines healthy. It is important to find something you enjoy and can incorporate into your daily / weekly routine.
This type of activity will also help towards achieving the NHS recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which has been shown to improve health, improve your sleep, help healthy weight maintenance, help with managing stress, and generally help improve your quality of life.
These physical activity guidelines have been shown to reduce your chances of developing the following conditions:
- Type II diabetes (by 40%)
- Cardiovascular disease (by 35%)
- Falls (by 30%)
- Depression (by 30%)
- Joint and back pain (by 25%)
- Colon and breast cancer (by 20%)
It is therefore important for us all to try and prioritise keeping fit and active during this challenging time.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A ‘PERFECT POSTURE’
Evidence has now come away from the idea that one specific sitting posture is best for everyone. Our bodies and spines are all built differently, so the most important thing is to find a few positions comfortable for your own back and body, and frequently move between these to help you avoid prolonged time spent in any one position.
Here at Shawe Physio we have created some simple pointers to help you set up your workspace at home, which may help you find these comfortable positions:
Try seating yourself at a desk or a table rather than working with your laptop in your lap if you can. This will help make small changes in positioning easier and avoid unnecessary strain on your muscles in your back and neck.
If you do need to work with your laptop or tablet in a position lower than eye line, try to avoid your head resting down “chin to chest”, as this increases workload for your neck muscles.
If you spend considerable time in front of your screen every day, consider purchasing a separate keyboard and mouse to treat your laptop more like a monitor. Use books or a stand to help raise the top line of your laptop screen to eye level and try to set it up directly in front of you.
If you spend considerable time on the phone, try and use a headset to offload sustained time either holding your phone to your ear or bending your head to the side.
Make sure to take short breaks every 20-30 minutes and change position to alleviate the strain of your joints and muscles being in one position for long times. Examples could include simple things such as setting your alarm to make sure you walk to get a glass of water at each 20-30 minute interval. Then sit yourself in a slightly different position when you return to your screen.
Take some time each day to work on building strength in your neck and shoulder blade muscles. We recently created a facebook post highlighting these exercises, for more information just follow this LINK.
Try and isolate your workspace within the home setting so you have spaces where you can mentally switch off from work at the end of a day to help your sleep and mental wellbeing.
HOW CAN SHAWE PHYSIO HELP YOUR BACK PAIN
If your back is already causing you pain and is not responding to the points above, then it is important to seek expert physiotherapy advice. This will help identify the exact cause of your pain, so that an individually tailored management plan can be created to help you both in the short- and longer-term. It is important to remember that back pain does not always mean there is ‘damage’ to the structures in your back. Many people associate high levels of back pain with needing surgery to ‘fix’ underpinning damage. This is most often not the case and, in fact, the evidence suggests that surgery often has a low success rate in the management of back pain.
Here at Shawe Physio, you will receive expert education and advice, alongside exercises and treatment specific to your needs as part of a combined approach to management. This will initially aim to help your acute back pain and daily function, and then help reduce the chances of your back pain recurring in the longer term.
KEY TAKE HOME MESSAGES
The most important thing to remember is that our backs need to move frequently in order to stay healthy.
Find a working position at home that is comfortable and allows you to change position easily.
Remember to get up and move briefly and change position every 20-30 minutes.
Prioritise engaging in some form of exercise which you enjoy such as walking or yoga and try to fit this into your daily routine.
For any further information, queries or for an initial assessment with one of your expert clinicians please do not hesitate to get in touch and we would love to help.