Working from Home Can be a Pain in the…Back

 

These days more and more of us are working from home. And, not coincidentally, more and more of us are suffering from back pain. “People are—a lot of times—working in spaces that aren’t ergonomic,” Dr. Ron Riesenburger, neurosurgeon and director of the spine center at Tufts Medical Center told CNN. “A lot of people have makeshift offices. They’re using chairs without proper support, without proper cushioning. And I think a lot of times they don’t even have a desk.” So, Riesenburger continues, “They’re putting their computer on their lap or something like that, and that really forces them to hunch over sometimes in a very awkward position. That awkward position can put added stress on the muscles of the neck and the muscles of the back.” And there is long list of other factors that cause back pain.

Back pain that doesn’t improve with rest or weakness, numbing or tingling in one or both legs are signs of severe back problems and you should see a doctor. But if you don’t have these more serious symptoms there are some easy steps you can take to reduce back pain.

Move It or Lose It

“The more you sit the more pressure you put on the cushioned discs between the bones in your back,” says Joel Press, a rehabilitation physician

at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City quoted in AARP Magazine. “Every 30 minutes, get up and walk around. This will squeeze fluid out of your discs, helping to head off pain. If you’re game, consider investing in a sit-stand desk.” 

Let Your Emotions Out

“If you keep a stiff upper lip, your back may pay for it,” according to AARP Magazine. “People who shut down or ‘stonewall’ during a fight with their partner are at higher risk of developing back pain, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Emotion. 

One reason may be that those who are upset or anxious are more likely to tense back muscles. In general, ‘if someone is depressed or anxious,’ says anaesthesiologist Yury Khelemsky, a pain specialist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, ‘they will have a worse experience of a pain signal than someone who is in a great mood, with great coping skills and social support.’”

Shed a Few Pounds and Upgrade What You Eat

“Even losing just five pounds can take a load off your spine,” Press explains. Studies have found that those with a high BMI (body mass index) have a higher risk of developing back pain. The doctor also points out that chronic pain is made worse by inflammation.

One way to reduce inflammation is with an anti-inflammatory diet that’s centered on fruits, vegetables, lean protein such as fish and chicken, and healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil.

Dump Your Old Mattress

If your mattress has seen better days, it’s time to pitch it out. A lumpy, saggy mattress contorts your body. Most sleep experts say after seven years it’s time to go mattress shopping. And when you shop, a medium firm mattress, as opposed to a very firm mattress, appears to be best for your back, according to a 2015 review published in the medical journal Sleep Health.

Your Mom Was Wrong. It’s Not Poor Posture.

“Perfect posture doesn’t exist – If ‘poor posture’ was the only reason for your pain, you’d be in pain permanently,” says Rushabh Savla, a specialist in shoulder, neck and head injuries.

“The problem is the amount of time we spend in a particular posture, so a more likely cause of your back or neck pain is lack of movement.” He recommends periodic gentle stretching exercises. To find the exercises that suit you, Google ‘gentle stretches for lower back pain’.

For More Immediate Relief

Increasing the blood flow will relax your muscles. Try taking a hot shower and direct the stream of water to tight areas for ten minutes or so. A heating pad can ease the pain and you can use one while you work at your desk. You can also work out specific painful spots by massaging the area with your fingers, a handheld massager or even a tennis ball. Another often effective remedy is to soak in a bathtub of hot water infused with Epsom salt.

 

 

 

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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