How to Avoid Back Pain Working from Home

When the COVID-19 crisis struck, the number of people working from home increased dramatically across the country. According to the Brookings Institution, nearly half of Americans are now working from home as a result of the pandemic, up from only 12% who worked from home at least one full day per month in 2017–2018. While working from home has let people stay physically separated, it has also resulted in a new health concern: back and neck discomfort caused by a lack of suitable office equipment.

What is the most crucial piece of advice you would provide to someone who works from home?

Don’t stay in one position for more than 45 minutes at a time. Get out of your chair and move about. Take a 15- to 30-minute break in the middle of the day to exercise. To enhance your circulation, try jumping jacks, pushups, or situps. You can strengthen your core and support your lower back and spine with a variety of basic workouts that you may practice at home or work. Even 30-second “microbreaks” to vary your posture for a few seconds while seated, such as standing up or arching your back a few times, can help relieve pressure. Working in a standing position for a few hours each day is also beneficial to your health.

If you’ve been working from home for a time and are experiencing persistent lower back pain, it’s possible that your home office setup is to blame. Back pain can be caused by working longer hours, not having a comfortable chair, or having poor posture.

“The haste with which people were ordered home to work [during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic] left little to no time to set up a decent office space,” says Julie Larson, a Providence physical therapist. “People also find themselves sitting for 3-4 hours or more without getting up without the regular distractions of work.” Long periods of sitting result in bad posture, which can contribute to pain.”

“Stress from juggling life at home can also cause discomfort due to increased cortisol, muscle stiffness, shallow breathing, and diminished circulation throughout the body,” she says. “A perfect storm of elements has conspired to cause back and neck pain.”

Julie offers tips on how to enhance the ergonomics of your home office, how to strengthen your lower back, and how it can all help you feel better.

Even before the COVID-19 epidemic, about one in every six Americans, or 26 million people, worked from home in some capacity. As states require non-essential employees to stay at home, that number has risen dramatically. If you’re one of these people, you might be experiencing new aches and pains that weren’t present at work. That’s because, even though it’s not required, many businesses employ the ANSI-HFS standard in the design of their computer workstations, as well as in the furnishing of their offices with ergonomic furniture and accessories. 

Most residential settings, on the other hand, lack the space to handle today’s ergonomic office furniture, and few people, especially those who spend most of their time at the workplace, invest in it. So, if you work from home, you’re probably sitting in a lounge chair or on your bed, either using your computer on a standard table or a kitchen countertop, or in a lounge chair or on your bed. You’re probably not in good shape wherever you’ve set up camp for the day. You may not need to be concerned if you do this for short periods, but our weeks at home are quickly growing into months.

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