Recent health concerns and changes in our global and local communities have called for a shift in how we conduct our business. Many people now find themselves working from home and, frankly, may not be equipped to provide themselves with a suitable work environment. As a result, the effects may be that individuals will see an increase in general aches and pains associated with poor posture and increased sitting time while performing “work-at-home" duties. This blog will focus on lower back pain and give you a few tips to consider in regards to your workspace when working from home.
- Sitting Surface – The surface on which you sit will determine a lot with regards to support, posture, and comfort. If you already have a supportive desk or office chair, this will be your best option. If not, opt for a firm sitting surface, like a dining room chair, versus a soft sitting surface such as a recliner or the couch. The chair you use should have a full cover back to allow for placement of a lumbar support. Avoid bar stools with no back or chairs with a small back rest and a single support arm which provides no ability to insert a lumbar support.
- Portable Lumbar Support – Once you have found a proper chair, you may then utilize some form of lumbar support to aid in maintaining good posture. A small towel roll or roll of paper towels will suffice but purchasing a relatively low cost and quality lumbar support is best. I have provided a link to a portable lumbar support that I recommend for my patients. The Original McKenzie Lumbar Roll. When using lumbar support, make sure you sit with your hips all the way back in your chair. Then, lean forward to place the support in the small of your back. Do not allow your hips to slide forward over time. This will cause you to slump and place increased stress on your lower back. Sitting properly, with lumbar support, is the best way to reduce lumbar stress as you are able to passively maintain proper body position.
- Active Sitting – If you are unable to purchase a lumbar support or find a suitable home-based replacement, you can always try active sitting. This involves sitting at the edge of your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Using your postural muscles, you will assume an upright position with the normal, forward curvature in your lower back maintained. The problem here is that eventually you will slouch, there is no getting around it. If that is the case, simply resume your upright sitting position. The more you practice the better you will get, as your postural muscle strength and attention to posture improve.
- Limit Sitting Time – Even with use of a proper lumbar support and a good supportive chair, you should still limit your sitting time. I typically recommend standing after every 45-60 minutes of sitting. This recommendation is for a healthy, non-painful spine. If you are having pain you may need to limit your sitting time even more. If you have sat to the point of pain, you have sat too long. If you are able, fluctuate between periods of sitting and standing to perform your work tasks. The time may vary for each, based on your specific situation. Standing desks or transitional desks are a great tool but may not be available or feasible for those working from home.
- Perform Preventative Back Extension – When you stand for your “sitting break” perform 5-6 standing back extensions or back bends, holding approximately 1-2 seconds. Then return to sitting and replace your lumbar roll. This will help to re-establish the normal, forward spinal curvature in your lower back and aid in reducing or preventing the onset of pain related to prolonged flexed/slouched postures of the lower back. If you are unable to stand for some reason but have been sitting for 45-60 minutes, you may opt for an exercise called a “slouch-overcorrect”. Simply sit on the edge of your chair and assume a slouched position for 1-2 seconds. Then, sit up straight and tall and overcorrect the normal, forward curvature in your lower back and hold for 1-2 seconds. Move slowly back and forth in these positions for up to 10 repetitions. This may be a good alternative when you cannot stand and perform back bends.
I hope you find these simple tips and activities useful in reducing or preventing the onset of back pain related to increased sitting time or sitting on unusual surfaces related to working from home. These are unprecedented times and we all are finding out how adaptable we can be. Stay healthy out there.