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6 Tips on How to Keep from Hurting Your Lower Back at Work

6 Tips on How to Keep from Hurting Your Lower Back When Working From Home

The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused a fundamental shift for all of us in how we work, socialize, and move throughout the day.  Lower back pain is a common, and incredibly frustrating, source of disability. With the changing landscape of work and possibly new work from home or mobile office situations back pain may be an unfortunate consequence.  Here are 6 useful tips that can help you protect your lower back and, if you already suffer from lower back pain, help prevent further damage.

1. Strengthen your core muscles every day

Your spine is an engineering masterpiece, but without support it’s prone to damage. Give it the support it needs by doing simple strengthening exercises every day. Even a brisk walk around your neighborhood can strengthen your stabilizing muscles, but if you’re really motivated, try the following:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Swimming
  • Strength training
  • Exercise ball workouts
  • Low-impact cardiovascular exercise

Woman doing exercises to prevent lower back pain when working from home

Incorporate back and abdominal strengthening exercises two or three times a week to specifically target your core.  Our Physiotherapists at Skye Health now offer Telehealth Physiotherapy services.  We use a phone or virtual online therapy session to guide you through simple but effective core exercises that can be done in the comfort of your own home or workplace.  We can also do virtual Rehab Pilates and Yoga based programs.

Whole body stretching exercises are also very beneficial for reducing your risk of lower back pain. Stretching can also address pain caused by tight muscles. For example, tight hamstrings are an underappreciated cause of back pain, and simple hamstring stretches can relieve lower back pain.  A customized Telehealth Physiotherapy appointment and home program will ensure you are using your time to do the most effective exercises for you.

2. Upgrade your office chair

Sitting in front of a computer all day is bad enough, but if your chair is a throwback to the 1990’s, it’s time to upgrade. Even worse, if you are at home due to COVID-19 and working from the kitchen table, couch or bed back pain may quickly become a major issue.  A poor-quality chair sets you up for lower back pain by putting excess pressure on the discs in your lower back. Look for an ergonomic chair with lumbar support that matches the natural curve of your spine. When you sit in the chair with your feet flat on the floor, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. You may need to add a footrest to keep your hips and knees in alignment.  

Skye Health's Telehealth Physiotherapy sessions can guide you through the proper set up and ergonomics of your workstation.  Some general tips to look for include:  if your chair has armrests, they should be adjusted so your elbows are at a 90° angle when your hands are on your keyboard. Alternatively, adjust the height of your keyboard with a keyboard tray that slides out from under your desk. When you’re sitting straight in your chair, you should be able to reach your arm out horizontally and almost touch the center of your computer monitor.  We can also recommend other ergonomic aids and how best to use them including desktop sit to stand workstations, ergonomic mouse pads, foot rests, and lumbar supports.

3. Practice good posture

No matter where you are, practicing good posture is a good way to activate your core muscles and protect your lower back. Keep your head over your neck, your shoulders back, and your spine straight and lifted. This will prevent damage associated with slouching over a keyboard or looking at a cellphone. For added benefit, contract your core muscles.

Repetitive motions can be especially straining, even if you’re not lifting anything heavier than a phone. If your job involves repetitive motions, make sure to practice good posture to prevent overuse injuries. If possible, alternate tasks so that your body gets a break. 

If you spend a lot of time on the phone, don’t cradle it between your ear and your shoulder- this puts a lot of strain on your neck, shoulders, and back, all of which increase your risk for lower back pain. Another risk factor for back pain is looking down at a cell phone for hours every day. Keep your cell phone at eye level to protect your back. 

4. Protect your back when you lift 

We’ve all heard it: “Lift with your knees, not your back!” But how many of us follow this adage? It’s true though, lifting objects without protecting your back puts you at risk for an injury that could cause chronic pain. One of the new realities for some people working from home is that they are balancing childcare and children with work during the day.  That may mean more lifting of children (and laundry), more times playing on and off the floor, and times where you are juggling all of the above while in a Zoom meeting!

When lifting:

  • Bend at your knees, rather than leaning forward 
  • Don’t twist your lower back; instead, pivot your feet and hips
  • Hold objects close to your chest

If you regularly lift heavy objects, invest in a quality back brace. They reduce the strain on your back and encourage proper lifting technique, which prevents pain from developing and can ease existing pain. 

Even if you’re not lifting something particularly heavy, your spine may be affected. Carrying around a bulky laptop bag or an oversized purse puts undue stress on your spine. Make sure to switch your bag from shoulder to shoulder to prevent imbalance and asymmetrical muscle strain. Whenever possible, use a backpack to distribute weight evenly. 

5. Take breaks

For many of us, sitting at a desk for hours on end is a daily activity. Unfortunately, we put ourselves at risk for lower back pain when we stay stationary for that long. While standing desks have the benefit of getting us out of our seats, standing at a desk for 8 hours is just as likely to wreak havoc on your lower back. 

Ideally, aim for a 15-minute break every 75- to 90-minutes. Make sure to get up and move around to get your blood flowing. Doing some simple stretches also improves circulation to your spine and eases pain caused by tight muscles.   We can recommend simple stretches, advise on free apps and pop-ups to remind you to move, and provide postural cues and aids that work for you.

There is a lot of evidence supporting the use of postural microbreaks during the day.  These are shorter, more frequent, breaks from 30sec -2 minutes that help to “reset” the nervous system, offload the postural demand on your muscles, and reboot your sitting muscles.  Incorporating microbreaks can reduce end of day fatigue by up to 60%

6. Sleep well

Sleeping on your back puts pressure on your lower spines. Relieve the pressure by putting a pillow under your knees. For side sleepers, putting a pillow between your knees can take some pressure off of your spine. 

It’s also important to protect your back immediately after you wake up. As you sleep, your discs expand as a result of reduced mechanical pressure and increased hydration. This increases your risk for a herniated disc if you jump out of bed and start moving furniture. Give your spine an hour or two before you do any heavy lifting. 

One of the benefits of booking a Telehealth Physiotherapy appointment is we can really assess what works best for you in your environment.  If morning pain and stiffness is your biggest concern we can help you alleviate that, if end of day soreness and fatigue are worsening we can assess how you are moving through your day and resolve those aggravating factors.

Conclusion 

Your spine and lower back health are related to your overall health. Focussing on your health is one of the most important things you can do during these uncertain times.  The best way to keep your lower back healthy is to keep your whole body healthy. Staying active, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of quality sleep is the best way to prevent lower back pain. And if you already suffer from lower back pain, incorporating these strategies into your daily routine can provide relief.  At Skye Health we want you to know we are still here for you and look forward to connecting through our Telehealth Rehabilitation Services.

Bonus tip: If you smoke, quit. Smoking can hamper your body's resistance to fighting viruses and make your lungs more susceptible to serious infection and complications. Smoking cigarettes restricts blood flow to your spine, which can lead to disc degeneration and prevent healing and new bone growth. 

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