Remote working and learning have changed the way we operate, but too much sitting and no physical activity is the perfect set up for back pain. Here are a few tips for spine friendly remote working and learning. Spine-health is just as important working or learning remotely, if not more so because it is easy to fall into bad posture habits that will affect the spine. Poor home working/learning habits can cause upper and lower back pain that could become chronic.
Individuals become too comfortable making the home working environment a damaging experience on spinal health. For chiropractors, the pandemic brought an influx of individuals of all ages with upper, middle, and lower back pain. This was caused by poor posture when video conferencing on the couch, slouching at the table and sitting for way too long, and never getting up and moving around.
Children tend to present with pain and aches on the side of the spine versus pain directly centered. This is from side slouching, often when staring at the computer monitor. Adults, especially over 40 complained of pain and stiffness in the upper and lower back. Herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and sciatica risks increase as bad habits continue and do not improve. However, this can all be helped with a little exercise, work/school space optimization, and forming healthy work and schooling from home habits.
When working/schooling remotely, there’s a tendency to be more sedentary. Individuals need to learn to take time to stretch out and keep the body limber. It is easy to use breaks to scroll through social media or binge on movies, videos, etc. This can still be accomplished, but stretch out and move around while taking breaks. An exercise program of stretching daily during the workday and endurance training twice a week will help reduce back pain and increase flexion. Results vary for everyone and the type of stretching exercises they are performing.
Core exercises are a perfect way to work out muscle stress and back pain resulting from poor posture. Slumped over a computer can place significant stress on the trapezius muscle causing the muscle to knot up and tighten. The trapezius muscle is crucial to neck and shoulder movement and helps stabilize the shoulder blades.
Trapezius stretch with band
- Holding an elastic band between the hands, place the band at the back of the skull.
- Slowly tilt the head back to its full range of motion as the resistance is felt.
- Return the head back to the neutral position maintaining alignment with the spine.
- Repeat ten times
- Choose 2 items of equal weight such as 2 books, 2 quarts of water, or 2 hand weights, and hold one item in each hand.
- Position keeping hands near your sides
- Slowly raise up and shrug your shoulders for several seconds
- Gently release shoulder shrug and bring back arms to neutral
- Repeat for 10 reps
Proper posture is a learned process that requires practice. Using a mirror to check posture can help maintain proper posture while seated when working/schooling. Self-assessing posture correctly is important and viewing oneself in a mirror is an easy way to figure out what adjustments are needed. Questions to ask oneself while self-assessing include:
- Is the head far too forward?
- Is there slouching?
- Are the shoulders curling/rounding around the body?
Posture tips when seated:
- Keep the feet flat on the floor or on a footrest
- If in the habit of crossing ankles and knees change position often
- Position the back against the chair. If the spine does not align with the chair use a cushion or backrest
- Position knees at hip height or a little lower
- Maintain some space between the back of the knees and the chair’s edge
- Look straight ahead but make sure the neck is comfortable
- Position forearms parallel to the floor
- Maintain relaxed shoulders
Adjust the Light
When lighting is not optimal there can be a tendency to strain forward in various positions. This can cause excessive stress and inflammation to the upper spine area. Natural ambient lighting is recommended. In general, the lighting set-up should be adjusted to easily see the screen without causing glare or any type of discomfort to the eyes.
Take a Walk
A daily routine that will support spine health is to take walk breaks every half hour for a few minutes. If every half hour is not doable then take a 5 or 10-minute break to walk around and stretch every hour. It is important not to remain seated for too long. Remember the body was meant to move and be active.
Optimization Work Station
Using ergonomic office furniture for home use can help prevent the development of unhealthy posture along with the development of further musculoskeletal issues. Laptops are great for their portability and ability to work-from-anywhere. However, actually placing them on your lap and working on them for too long will cause back and neck strain. It is difficult to position the keyboard and screen for maintaining a proper line of sight and hand position.
The most spine-healthy way to work on a laptop is to position the screen at eye level with the keyboard level with slightly extended hands. A recommended long-term solution is using a screen and keyboard that can be adjusted. One type of computer set up is an iPad positioned at eye-level with a stand and a wireless external keyboard/mouse on a table or desk.
A lot of money does not have to be spent on the setup. Books or boxes laying around the house can be used to prop up the screen to the proper height. The goal is when working/schooling remotely is to ensure the body is not hunched over, bent, or straining forward and to maintain proper posture with optimal spinal alignment.
There are unique spinal health challenges when working/learning remotely. However, they can be avoided with a little planning and small adjustments. Taking time to stretch, do a little exercise, walk around the house, have adequate lighting, and making some ergonomic desk, chair, and computer changes that will help maintain a healthy spine.
Back Pain Rehabilitation
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Moretti A, Menna F, Aulicino M, Paoletta M, Liguori S, Iolascon G. Characterization of Home Working Population during COVID-19 Emergency: A Cross-Sectional Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(17):6284. Published 2020 Aug 28. doi:10.3390/ijerph17176284