For two years now, a large percentage of Canadians have been working from home, via telecommuting. Although the initial adjustment period has passed, remote work has become routine and part of our daily lives, some bad habits still linger… like back pain!
If you are dealing with telecommuting-related pain, make an appointment for a physiotherapy or occupational therapy consultation.
COVID-19, remote work and their collateral damage: lower back, wrist, shoulder and elbow pain
Over the last two years, the number of remote work-related visits has skyrocketed. For many months now, our physiotherapists and occupational therapists at CMI Clinics have been noticing an increase in consultations for wrist, shoulder and especially lower back pain, all of which are related to telecommuting.
Back pain seems to be linked to our often non-ergonomic working environment and poor posture, but also to the sedentary lifestyle that the pandemic has forced us to develop.
Let’s go back to the non-ergonomic environment… Caught off guard by the sudden switch to remote work, many of us have adapted as best we could, sometimes working on the corner of a kitchen table, with an uncomfortable chair.
Laptops don’t help either. While our eyes should be at screen level, we often have our head down, which puts pressure on our neck. A laptop with a built-in keyboard is not suitable for prolonged work.
Gone are the coffee breaks with colleagues and the commute to and from the office. As a result, we have lost the habit of moving around, and sometimes spend three or four hours in front of our screen, without thinking about taking a break.
So in this article, we will try to give you some tips on how to adopt good habits to reduce and relieve your back pain!
Good habits to adopt when telecommuting: our 5 tips to avoid back pain
If you work from home on a permanent basis, you can’t afford not to work in an adequate environment, one that is comfortable and safe for you. Otherwise, you risk developing musculoskeletal disorders. Here are our 5 tips to help prevent back pain!
- Get a real work desk and an ergonomic chair that suits your body and your situation. Avoid the living room or kitchen table, and the chair that goes with it. The desk should not be too high, and your chair should also have adjustable height and good lumbar support.
- Explore options such as an ergonomic mouse and wrist rests, which can help relieve pressure on the wrists. Keep in mind that this is not for everyone and there is no substitute for trying.
- Take regular breaks: sitting for long periods of time puts pressure on your lower back and neck. You may not be able to join your co-workers at the coffee machine, but your muscles and joints still need to stretch. Take a few steps and stay hydrated!
- Don’t forget to eat lunch! Do not overlook this meal, as it will give you the strength and energy you need to go through the day. Also, avoid eating at your workstation so that you can relax and not spend the whole day in the same room. Even better, go for a walk outside!
- Before starting your day, or at the end of it, practice a physical activity to fight against the sedentary lifestyle. This can be a walk, a run, swimming, yoga or meditation. It will also help you to separate your work from your home.
Remote work and lower back pain
When working from home, lower back pain can be triggered by several factors: a lack or absence of lumbar support (which can be addressed with a lower back cushion), a forward posture (head and neck tucked in), a lack of back support or a chair that is either too high or too low.
Adopting the right posture to avoid back pain when working from home
Here is a proper posture to avoid back pain (lower back pain, herniated discs) to work remotely in a safe and sustainable way.
- Your feet should be flat on the floor, or on a footrest.
- Sit in the back of your chair and keep your back straight. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor.
- Adjust the height of the armrests, so your elbows are at a 90 degree angle and your arms are close enough to the keyboard and mouse.
- Finally, keep your head upright and your eyes horizontal. You may need to adjust your screen for this.
- Change positions regularly and give yourself breaks.
Obviously, this posture is an ideal one and we have to adjust the workstation as much as possible to achieve it. This is where occupational therapists come in. We must be able to adapt our workstation to our specific musculoskeletal disorders, our postures and the reality of our work.
The occupational therapist has an external perspective and can analyze the different components and make recommendations to improve the comfort of your workstation.
For example, using a laptop is not recommended. If you can’t avoid it, we recommend using a mouse and a portable keyboard.
Occupational therapy can help prevent pain and injuries related to the work environment. Providing advice on proper posture and workstation can help prevent back pain.
Massage, yoga, exercises and stretching: how can you quickly relieve and reduce back pain?
There are several techniques available to prevent, reduce or relieve back pain at home. To help relieve muscle tension, you can practice self-massage with a tennis ball.
It may sound crazy, but it’s effective! Stand against a wall and move a ball across your back. Do not press directly on the painful area.
Stretch regularly. You may want to stretch your neck, for example. While seated, lean your head to your shoulder on one side. Then lean to the other side and repeat the exercise several times.
One technique that can help relieve lower back pain and prevent future pain is the cat exercise, which is done sitting against the wall. Place your elbows on your knees and alternate between stretch back and side bends. Repeat only if it relieves your pain.
Yoga can also help with muscle relaxation. The child’s pose can be effective in releasing accumulated tension. Get down on your knees and put your hands on your heels. Gently bend forward until your head meets the floor.
Do not wait for the pain to become unbearable before seeking occupational therapy. Occupational therapy will help you carry on your work duties in a safe and sustainable manner by offering advice and teaching you stretching and strengthening exercises. The treatment plan also includes education on the best habits to avoid injury.
How can you treat back pain without medication?
You can relieve back pain without medication by practicing regular physical activity (gently, so as not to aggravate your pain), stretching throughout the day, or taking regular breaks when working from home and by staying hydrated.
The most important thing is to avoid complete rest and to keep your body moving.
If the pain is persistent after several weeks, do not hesitate to consult a health professional. It is often easier to correct a back problem as soon as it appears rather than waiting for it to subside on its own.
How do you tell if your back pain is muscular?
To identify the origin of your back pain, you will need to consult a healthcare professional. You cannot diagnose yourself at home.
A clinical examination will tell you whether your pain is related to muscles, nerves or joints.
If you are currently experiencing back pain that you believe may be related to remote work, make an appointment directly with one of our occupational therapists.
Lumbar sprain or lumbago: hot or cold?
Lumbar sprain, also known as lumbago, can be caused by a sudden movement, a false move, a long-term posture issue or a sedentary lifestyle, in which the lumbar region is subjected to mechanical stress.
In general, when the accident occurs, you may feel a burning sensation or inflammation. In this case, applying icefor short periods of time to reduce the pain may be appropriate. Once the inflammation has subsided, you may choose to continue to apply ice if it helps, or to apply heat.
Whatever you choose to do, do not apply it directly on the skin, as it may irritate or burn it. Be sure to wrap your ice or heat with a towel or cloth. If either method (heat or ice) increases your pain, stop using it.
What should you do if you suffer from sciatic neuralgia, commonly known as sciatica?
First, what is the sciatic nerve? This nerve is located in the lower back and goes into the thighs, where it splits in two and goes down to the feet, which is why the pain can radiate down one side.
Sciatic nerve pain (or sciatica) occurs when the nerve is subjected to pressure in the lower back or buttocks. Poor posture or sitting for long periods of time can lead to sciatica pain, among other things.
You can recognize sciatica by its symptoms, which cause radiating pain in the buttock and down the leg. The pain usually affects only one side.
We recommend that you consult a doctor if you have these symptoms so they don’t get worse.
In the meantime, to reduce the pain at night, you should sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs or on your back with your knees bent and supported by a pillow. Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended.
When you’re sitting at the office during the day, try to keep your knees a little higher than your hips, using a footrest for example. And don’t forget to go for a walk!
What should you do if you have severe back pain?
If you are experiencing severe pain and it is starting to interfere with your sleep quality and your daily life, you should consult a healthcare professional. He or she will tell you what the problem is and set up a treatment plan to relieve your pain.
How can you relieve a knot in the back?
You may feel a knot in your upper back at the level of your shoulder blades. It can be the result of a fall, trauma, poor workplace ergonomics, stress, bad posture or repetitive movements. Basically, another burden of remote work. The pain is often related to muscle tension in the shoulder blade area. A physiotherapy assessment can help confirm this hypothesis.
Stretching, applying heat or self-massage can help relieve the knot. Physiotherapy can also take care of your pain and improve your posture.
If you are currently experiencing back pain and suspect it may be related to remote work, make an appointment with one of our occupational therapists.