Many of us are finding out what it is like to work from home for an extended period of time. Given the speed at which most firms moved their employees to work remotely, many of the niceties didn’t happen. Namely support to get a working environment at home which minimised the impact on your body. Quite a few of the clients I speak too are reporting that they are suffering from lower back pain from sitting too much.
Are you struggling with lower back pain from sitting too much?
Maybe your lower back pain from sitting too much, is a direct result of the back-to-back conference calls you are stilling finding yourself on? Or maybe your ‘makeshift’ workstation is contributing to the problem. Maybe you are finding that the little bits of exercise you used to do without thinking about it, such as walking to a meeting, going out to buy a sandwich at lunch time, walking to and from the station, really did add up in the overall scheme of things? It is all too easy when you start working at home to not carry through on the good intentions you had for yourself such as exercising twice a day, taking decent amounts of breaks, eating healthily… When we speak to our clients right now, so many of them report suffering from back, neck or shoulder pain. So in this article, I wanted to give you the low down on what happens to our bodies when we sit for long periods of time and how you can mitigate the impact. If you are finding that your workload has gone sky high due to COVID-19, this article may help.
Why do we get lower back pain from sitting too much?
You may be wondering why people often get lower back pain from sitting too much? At a very high level our bodies were not designed for sitting for long periods of time. (But you probably knew that!) When we sit for long periods of time the following things happen to our bodies:
- Your hip flexors and hamstrings tighten up which causes your glutes to lengthen to compensate
- When your hip flexors are tight it makes it harder for your pelvis to rotate and one of the reasons we get lower back pain from sitting too much
- If your workstation is not set up for good posture, such as having to work from a kitchen table, you can often slouch, round your shoulders and curl your neck down. This can lead to problems with our shoulders and upper backs. (After all, you can get pains in other places not just lower back pain from sitting too much.)
How to remedy the lower back pain (and other areas from sitting for too long periods of time)
Firstly, regardless of how sophisticated your solution for avoiding lower back pain from sitting too much, there is a very simple solution. Reduce the amount of time you are sitting down or sitting in a poor position. Seriously, consider:
- Taking some of your calls or video calls standing up
- Timetabling in some walking breaks between calls
- Every hour you are at your desk make a point of standing up, stretching and walking around and not sitting down for 5 – 10 minutes.
- Putting a timer onto your phone or computer to remind to you stand up and stretch.
- Using headphones with your phone and do NOT spend long periods of time with your phone tucked under your ear or holding your phone up to your ear
- Starting and maintaining a daily stretching routine. (There are plenty around on YouTube, or sign up for virtual pilates and yoga classes. Once again, there are lots of free routines on YouTube. Many gyms and yoga/pilates studios are now offering virtual classes.)
Set up your workstation as best you can
If you commuted via the train or public transport to work you may not have had the option to take the contents of your desk with you, namely the lovely big monitors you used. But this doesn’t mean to say that you can’t get a reasonably decent set up for your work area from home. You should aim for the following for your workstation:
- your eye level is towards the top of your monitor screen,
- your elbows are at 90 degrees and your arms are in line with the keyboard
- your feet are flat against the floor (or a foot rest)
- Your lumbar spine is supported
- Try and avoid the temptation of using your laptop on your lap on the sofa. This is asking for trouble for your lower back, and a quick way to start shelling out tons of money on a physio. (I know from bitter experience as well)
To avoid shelling out loads of money on a standing desk, here are some ways of adjusting your temporary desk so it is set up very inexpensively:
- A lumbar support cushion can work nicely or if you have it a small flat cushion which can be folded over to support your lumbar spine
- A cardboard box or set of books is a very cheap way to raise up your screen to the right height
- Use a box to rest your feet on so you can have your feet flat on the floor
- A ‘wrist rest’ for your mouse and keyboard is a cheap way of supporting your wrists and avoiding RSI in your hands and arms
What exercises can I do to help myself?
Here are some great exercises and workouts add into your daily routine to counteract the impact of all that sitting down from the “Bob and Brad” YouTube channel. Bob and Brad bill themselves as YouTube’s most famous physical therapists.
- If you struggle with knots in your shoulders, upper back or traps then these 60 second stretches will help relieve them or their 7 ways to get knots from painful traps or between shoulder blades
- Their 7 best hip flexor muscle stretches for people who sit all day to decrease back pain
- Their video explaining how tight hamstrings cause back pain and sciatica and how stretch these
- If you struggle with back pain, then this is a great video which shows which exercises to do after sitting and 10 stretches for low back or mid back pain
PS Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert, and none of the advice given here is a substitute for getting expert medical advice.